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Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden

Santino Sini

Mark Fox, Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden, 2010–15. Five-channel video installation, edition 1 of 6.

Giverny: Journal of an Unseen Garden
Norton Museum of Art
July 5–October 30, 2016

The ponds of Claude Monet’s Nymphéas, studies of the Giverny gardens in the Normandy region of France, are unmistakable. As the paintings number around 250, the series may be the most thorough study of any resting waters. During a residency at Giverny, the artist Mark Fox filmed beneath the surface of the ponds, a sort of fish-eyeview of the famous landscape. What he produced changes up common perceptions of Monet’s iconic subject.

Monet’s glimpses into the garden are highly personal and emotive. In his work, the aesthetic and metaphysical aspects of the water’s surface––the reflections of sky and the implied depth––range across seasons, show the effects of time, and vary in degrees of closeness and abstraction. The paintings demonstrate the innumerable perceptions that can occur between an image and a viewer.

In contrast, Fox’s protracted gaze is detached and impersonal. It references the large scale of Nymphéas by surpassing it––his scale is even larger, with video projections occupying five screens on three adjacent walls, reaching well overhead and some stretching thirty feet long. The screens alternate views, and fade in and out of black with the passage of days. Two cushioned loveseats are located in the center of the gallery. With free entry on a Wednesday in West Palm Beach, the crowd is largely seniors. The couches are soft and cozy.

Considering Giverny, it is hard to picture a below that mirrors the above. Ponds are thought to be murky,cut through with sucking catfish, dancing mosquito larvae, perhaps some sunken detritus. But these ponds are not murky––they’re clear and beautiful.The open water is a soft green that becomes blue at its peak of clarity. On overcast days, the greens grade into gray haze. On the clearest days, the brightness intensifies. The sharpest greens can be found in the lily stalks and pond grasses. Many lilies have red faces. Feathered, blooming plants approach the water’s surface. Certain flora resemble the legs of mantis shrimp. Sunlight catches millions of suspended particles. The surface ripples and, when stilled, appears like ice.

The murkiness does come, but the bottom never falls completely into shadow; the ponds are too shallow for that. The bottom is not a decaying, silty brown, but is similar instead to a dark, variously pigmented oil paint. A miniscule orange leaf rests on the bottom and does not move for weeks in a row. Time moves on in an unbroken chain. Fox’s long and unencumbered gaze, while somewhat detached, makes Monet’s very personal study somehow more intimate, and its effect is equally calming.