KENNETT SQUARE, Penn., June 27, 2012 — Longwood Gardens, the 1,077-acre horticultural masterpiece in the Brandywine Valley designed by Pierre DuPont in 1906, has launched itself into a new era with its latest exhibit, a light installation by British artist Bruce Munro.
For Munro’s first solo show in the United States, he employs the vast gardens at Longwood as his canvas, installing a series of illuminated tableaux throughout the property.
By day his work is all but invisible (though if you look closely you may spy a grouping of light stems or wires), but as the sun recedes Munro’s work slowly emerges from the dark corners of the garden. When night falls, a glow from the far reaches of Longwood calls like a siren.
The concept of utilizing light to facilitate an emotional connection to the gardens is very much in keeping with the spirit of du Pont, who often hosted nighttime parties that included colorful firework displays. And, after 1930, when he installed fountain gardens that were inspired by the great castles of Europe, du Pont invited guests to attend light shows, where as many as 600 illuminated jets of water were choreographed to dance.
Munro has wisely avoided gilding the lily, steering clear of the splashiest aspects of Longwood, like the lavish European-style fountains. He draws visitors like a pied piper of light to quieter corners, like meadows and forest floors.
A placid pond is adorned with “lily pads” that Munro has fashioned from compact disks. Dusk is the best time to view this display as the iridescence of the CDs pings off the waning sunlight.
Alongside Lookout Loft, a sprawling tree house with ramps and a resident beehive, awaits one of Munro’s most compelling light displays. As evening sinks deeper into night thousands of small lights emerge like sprites from the forest floor. A path, rarely taken by day, becomes an irresistible draw, pulling visitors further into the depths of the forest, creating a mesmerizing and eerie experience.
One of the most arresting and emotionally powerful Munro installations is found at the far end of the property in a meadow near Hourglass Lake. Recycled plastic bottles are piled atop one another in cylinders. By day, this grouping in the field resembles a wait station at a recycling plant, but at night, these hulking masses become a colorful glowing maze that children scamper though. Here music, like powerful African chants and Zen-like spiritual instrumentals, envelops visitors.
Inside the Conservatory with its arresting displays of bold colors, massive fronds and dazzling water features, Munro treads lightly, treating this awe-inspiring space with deference. He has wisely decided to complement rather than compete with the abundance of natural beauty that’s housed here. A cascade of light that sparkles above the plantings results in a mirror-like effect, sending the eye darting between the plantings below to the light above.
Munro’s treatment of the gardens is deft. Although modern in its materials, it is very much in keeping with the spirit of Longwood Gardens’ heritage.
In the end, Munro’s light exhibit, which runs until September 29, is right on point, honoring du Pont’s vision for a space that at once celebrates horticulture and culture, the natural world and humans’ impact upon it.
See more images of the exhibit at DesignBoom.com
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