Suburban Backyard Aesthetics: Jessica Machacek at the Georgia Museum of Art

plot, 2015

plot, 2015

With a rectilinear arrangement in white, accessorized by a looping yellow line, Jessica Machacek transforms materials from the garden section of any Home Depot or Lowe’s supply store into a sculptural installation of clear aesthetic intent. What the work on view in the MFA Candidate Exhibition at the Georgia Museum of Art, entitled plot (2015), suggests is the equally transformative, aesthetic nature of people’s efforts in their own plots of land: the suburban American yard.


Detail, plot, 2015

Suburban America is invoked not merely in the yellow rubber hose, coming from a water spigot attached to the museum’s wall, but in the perfectly level grass of white, synthetic turf and pavement it lays upon. Absurdly the hose is not functional, nor does the artificial grass require watering. On the wall, a grid of nine white plaster squares backs this tableaux. A spotlight from a bulb on a tripod refocuses the viewer’s attention on what seems to be a product built for decorative garden edging, a pile of white rocks. In fact, the artist made each rock by hand, replicating an easily obtained consumer object through time-consuming and repetitive labor. Consumerism fascinates the artist. Machacek’s labor not only critiques the easy consumerism with which we prune and ornament our little fiefdoms of outdoor space, but indicts the artist as a willing participant in the endless cycle with which we try to uphold artificial standards for natural beauty.

Vivarium Dream

Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

The consumerist interests of the artist are subdued in the ghostly plot, which functions like the photographic negative of a twinned work, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634). Vivarium Dream, a multi-part installation comprised of a commercially available greenhouse, sound, garden items of faux materials, and printed images, formed the basis for plot quite literally. The artist cast the white plaster squares of plot’s back wall from the clear plastic windows provided for the DIY greenhouse. The turf and tile in plot matches the footprint of the greenhouse, which also contains handmade rocks. The artificial ambitions of man’s engagement with “nature,” as manifest in the American backyard, is seen more clearly in Vivarium Dream, where an impossibly long and bright fake fern dangles in front of the reproduction of a waterfall.


Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

Taken together, these works show the artist’s concern with clarifying her and our relationship to something as simple as a smooth green lawn. Particularly in an installation like plot, one sees how much ideas of nature have become unnatural. While such considerations are hardly new—one need only look as far as the picturesque reaction to the formal gardens of Versailles—in Machacek’s work they speak to a contemporary American moment inherited from the 1950s and closely tied to suburbia and the American dream.

Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015

Detail, Vivarium Dream (Model #701634), 2015


High Art, Public Art, Garden Art: Koon’s Split Rocker at Rockefeller Center


Jeff Koons, Split-Rocker, 2000; Stainless steel, soil, geotextile fabric, internal irrigation system, and live flowering plants; 446 7/8 x 483 1/8 x 427 5/8 inches. Edition of 1, plus 1 AP. Installation view at Rockefeller Center, New York City; June 25 – September 12, 2014; © Jeff Koons. (Photograph mine)

Summer is over, but I was reminded of some of the public art I saw in New York City this summer when I reread this great article on Hyperallergic discussing Kara Walker’s Subtlety and Jeff Koon’s Split Rocker and how both use the monumental forms of public artSplit Rocker, a mammoth topiary riffing on childrens’ toys, has an illustrious visitation record, being shown at Versailles before its recent incarnation this summer at Rockefeller Center in New York City. In both cases, Koons takes advantage of the long public vista to create a dominating perspective for the eye to stare down and, secondarily, a sense of irony when the playful bearer of the eye is considered. In Versailles, the vegetation referenced the history of the gardens surrounding the palace and its carefully pruned hedges. Amid Rockefeller Center’s towering buildings and hard asphalt, it seems equally light-hearted but totally vacuous.


This piece is named Split-Rocker because it takes the two different rockinghorse models and splices them together, the disjunct most clearly seen in the metal edging when viewed from the side. The playful irony continues by presenting the blown-up children’s toy  where one might expect a monument or heroic statue.


In a nod to the season, the surface is made up on flowers, which will grow and blow at different points through the summer, giving it some amount of variability. In Koon’s work, this superficial layer of vegetation is just that: superficial. Although artists have done interesting works that change because of natural growth over time, this piece is carefully maintained to always bloom and be colorful.


Tellingly, when I saw Split-Rocker in July, I was strongly reminded of a recent trip to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. The plant-covered sculptural installations there greatly resemble the Koon’s piece, but they certainly do not function in the art market at all like one, nor are they considered high art.



A Folk Art Paradise in Georgia: Howard Finster’s Paradise Gardens


Over on Burnaway Magazine, there’s a new article up that I wrote about visiting folk artist Howard Finster’s former home and garden in Summerville, Georgia. The artist created an area full of folk art, religious text, and junk intermingled at every turn, and visiting is a fun daytrip from Atlanta or elsewhere in North Georgia. Seeing the artist’s work here, as opposed to a museum, clarifies where the artist was coming from in both a literal and figurative sense, and strengthened my appreciation of his work. I’ve included more pictures here, and just follow the link to read the article “Howard Finster’s Paradise Garden Continues to Thrive” on Burnaway.


I visited Paradise Gardens in June. Now that I’ve gotten back from a long vacation (without a computer–possibly not the best decision I’ve ever made), I hope to catch up and posts of some of the things I’ve seen soon.