Decorating nature


Art displays in four Chicago parks explore the meaning of gardens :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

photo courtesy of Brook Collins / Chicago Park District Artist Janet Morton works to create "Changing Channels."

Paris has its gardens as art. And now Chicago has art in its gardens. "Art in the Garden," a new public art project, is on display this summer in four of the city's parks: Grant, Washington, Douglas and Lincoln parks.

Twenty-four artists were invited to create designs using flowers and plants as well as man-made materials such as shattered window glass, artificial turf and televisions.

Although many of the designs incorporate plastic and synthetic materials, this is far beyond your garden gnome or pink flamingo. The purpose of the display is to explore the role of a garden.

Adam Schwerner, director of horticulture at the Chicago Park District, came up with the idea during the last four years as he began to incorporate art into Chicago's parks. "We had been experimenting with art objects and arty stuff in the garden," he says. "We wanted to push the envelope on what is a garden."

Artist Janet Morton pushes it well with her design, "Changing Channels." She buried 1,000 televisions on the southeast corner of Michigan Avenue and Balbo Drive in Grant Park. The TV frames span 60 feet and will be filled with plantings this summer. Morton says she wanted to offer a new way to look at the world through this familiar square frame. Each TV is programmed with its own changing garden show.

As the garden changes over the summer, she suggests bringing children back to see how the plantings have grown and morph-ed within and around the sets.

"In these attention-deficit times," Morton says, "this garden challenges viewers to watch carefully for subtle shifts in color and the slow action of growth."

The ability to see differences over time was one of the aspects of the proposal that appealed to Schwerner, he says.

"There is art that is sculptural and put down in a place, but these gardens will change dramatically over time," he says, adding that he also hopes people will return to watch the morphing spaces.

Since the park district began to experiment with art in the garden, the response has been strong, Schwerner says. Some people say they really love it and say it helps to expand their vision of a garden; others don't understand it, but say it brought attention to a garden they had otherwise overlooked.

And for those who prefer the traditional approach to the planted plots, there are still 76 annual gardens in the city that will be untouched by the artists' creative and quirky additions.

"Art in the Garden," Schwerner says, is an apt introduction to Millennium Park, which has permanent public art, and the year-round Lurie Garden designed by Kathryn Gustafson, Piet Oudolf and Robert Israel.

"[Millennium Park] is such a public art project," Schwerner says. "Not only the Gehry, but also the landscapes. It is the biggest art garden project and these 24 gardens are supportive of that."

For a list of art installations, see

Anna Blessing, Medill News Service

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