David Hartt: A Colored Garden

A note for visitors: an exhibition website is available here.

David Hartt: A Colored Garden is the first artist-designed garden to activate the 49-acre historic site. Hartt’s work explores histories lying dormant in the landscape with speculative narratives that provide a playful, exuberant, and vibrant counterpoint to the surrounding grounds.

Located in the southern meadow just below the Glass House, Hartt’s circular garden will span forty feet and comprise an array of flowers — including peonies, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and phlox — that bloom sequentially, creating a variation of height, texture, and color. The selection of flowers correspond to the plant varieties found in the paintings of Charles Ethan Porter (1847 – 1923), an African-American artist whose poetic still lifes, landscapes, and portraits were celebrated by well-known contemporaries such as Frederic Church, Edmonia Lewis, Henry Ossawa Tanner, and Mark Twain. Although Porter studied in New York and worked for a time in Paris, his work is firmly rooted in and inspired by Connecticut where he spent most of his life. Hartt selected the title for this work — A Colored Garden — as a provocation that signals Porter’s identification as a “colored artist” as well as the garden’s capacity to function as a metaphor for race within the landscape.1

When designing the garden, Hartt took inspiration from David Whitney’s contributions to the Glass House site. As a well-known curator and Philip Johnson’s partner for over forty years, Whitney exerted considerable influence on the evolution of the landscape, including the creation of colorful gardens, many of which are no longer extant. The circular shape of the garden also echoes Johnson-designed elements within the site as well as Donald Judd’s site-specific concrete sculpture.

Beginning in May, a bronze mask designed by Hartt will hold cuttings from the garden and sit on top of the dining table in the Glass House. Additionally, an online exhibition will feature works by Porter and Hartt alongside an evolving selection of materials documenting the project.

Hartt is a visual artist whose research-based practice investigates the interplay between culture, the built environment, and the communities that shape and are shaped by these concepts. As part of a year-long residency, he will begin work on a related film that reflects on the Arcadian ideals represented in the site’s landscape as well as The Burial of Phocion, a painting attributed to Nicolas Poussin that stands inside the Glass House. The film will follow a group of chamber musicians as they perform new music by composer Tomeka Reid. The roving camera will capture the performance, the structure of the building, and the pastoral context.

David Hartt: A Colored Garden is organized by Cole Akers, curator and special projects manager, The Glass House. The project is supported in part by the Canada Council for the Arts and the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Marge and Joe Grills Fund for Historic Gardens and Landscapes.

David Hartt (b. 1967, Montréal) lives and works in Philadelphia where he is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania. He has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and a BFA from the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Ottawa.

Hartt’s upcoming and recent solo exhibitions include The Histories at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and in the forest at the Graham Foundation, Chicago. Current and recent group exhibitions include Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America at The Museum of Modern Art, New York (on view through May 31, 2021); America Is Hard to See at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; and Shine a light/Surgir de l’ombre: Canadian Biennial at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

His work is in the public collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The RISD Museum, Providence; The Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Henry Art Gallery, Seattle; The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; and The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam.

In 2018 Hartt was a recipient of both a Pew Fellowship and a Graham Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a Foundation for Contemporary Art Grant in 2015, in 2012 he was named a United States Artists Cruz Fellow and an Artadia award, and in 2011 he received a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.

Charles Ethan Porter was born in the late 1840s in Rockville, Connecticut. In 1869 he was accepted into the prestigious National Academy of Design and began a four-year study in New York City. Porter taught art lessons to support himself through school, then completed his studies in 1873 and opened a small studio in New York City. In 1878, upon returning to Connecticut, Porter found the familiar landscape of New England altered by industrialization. Soon after, he left for Paris, France, where he continued his training and spent time painting in the French countryside. Branching away from his still lifes, Porter began to explore the landscape genre and incorporate elements of Impressionism into his work. In 1884, Porter moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he introduced his impressionist-inspired new work, which defied the “established aesthetics” of the day. Porter returned to his hometown Rockville, Connecticut in 1897 where he continued to work until his death in 1923. His work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, Birmingham Museum of Art, San Antonio Museum of Art, and the Wadsworth Atheneum, among other institutions.

In an 1883 letter to Mark Twain, Porter wrote, “I am aware that there are a goodly number of my [Connecticut] friends and others who are anxious to see how the colored artist will make out, but this is not the motive which impresses me. There is something of more importance, the colored people — my people — as a race I am interested in, and my success will only add to others who have already shown wherein they are capable the same as other men.”