241 Things

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Studium Generale 1000things lectures, The Hague

241 Things

We did it! Finally we’re let into the garden bordering the study. It’s just us two, accompanied by a burly guide who solemnly walks ahead of us in silence. It was well worth the effort: this is one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve ever seen.

The quote “Burl Marx was a painter that uses plants as paint and the soil as a canvas” comes to life before our eyes. As a painter he experimented with light, colour, the texture of stones, plants, trees and shrubbery, seeming to have a preference for plants of exceptional colour and leafage. Many of the rare indigenous species that he introduced in his designs were tracked down in the jungle by Marx himself and planted on the property. Here in the open air, he assembled a rich collection of Brazilian plants and trees, all the while researching how to apply them in his composition.

Besides being a collector, Burl Marx was also fantast with a great sense for drama. Boulders were stripped of their usual vegetation and were instead covered by cacti. Dozens of Asian orchids were imported. Rare trees, whimsical waterfalls, even a monumental marble façade (shipped over as a gift from the city of Rio) are characters in this exuberantly performed theatre piece.The show is a spectacle in which the artificial and the natural seem to compete with one another, only to settle for a harmonious balance that animates these gardens. No nude naturals to be found here. Instead, Marx flashes contrasting, nearly toxic colour combinations. At times it’s hard to believe you’re really there and not an extra in one of the better Walt Disney cartoons filled with fantastical birds, butterflies, and lizards. He most definitely wasn’t modest or afraid to take on nature and, with utmost precision, to choreograph her like a true dramaturge. But above all, he presents us with an ode to nature, by putting all he could imagine into play.

Just outside Rio there’s an extraordinary museum that holds a private collection of folk art that, according to them, is the largest collection in Brazil. The French Jacques van de Beuque travelled the world and for forty years collected folk art on markets, fairs, and shops. He then found a house, now known as Casa do Pontal, in which to show his collection.

The museum is much cleaner in its presentation than other folk art museums in Rio de Janeiro. Each space contains shelves on which endless amounts of sculptures are grouped, as though the collector simply wanted to own everything without making distinctions. The best part of the collection is almost impossible to find. An inconspicuous door opens to a small room where a hilarious collection of ‘arte erotica’ is hidden away; every day sex scenes are crafted with exaggeration and humour, something that the material qualities of clay are extremely adept at conveying. There was much to see and discover, despite the lights constantly switching off and forcing you to keep walking to activate the sensor.