SARASOTA — As balmy weather sends people outdoors in search of natural backdrops to pepper into their social media feeds, Marie Selby Botanical Gardens ups the ante with “Roy Lichtenstein: Monet’s Garden Goes Pop.”
The unique exhibition recreates the natural beauty of Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny in France, through the lens of pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s graphic sensibility.
Lichtenstein rose to prominence as a leader in the Pop Art movement. His works were influenced by comic strips and images from American advertising, often rendered in the style of the newspaper printing, hallmarked by Ben Day dots.
Considering the vast difference between Impressionist Monet’s soft paintings of his iconic gardens and Lichtenstein’s comic book style, the connection may seem odd.
But Lichtenstein was a fan of Monet and made a series of rarely seen works interpreting the Water Lilies and Haystacks series. He called them “manufactured Monets,” in which he endeavored to create an “industrial way of making Impressionism.”
Three of the Lichtenstein Haystacks, on loan from the Roy Lichtenstein Foundation and a private collector, are on display in the garden’s Museum of Botany and the Arts at the Payne Mansion, . There are also three of his Water Lilies, on loan from the Perez Art Museum in Miami, the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach and a private collector.
Those pieces await after the tour of the 15-acre grounds, through 10 vignettes created by the gardens’ horticultural team: Mike McLaughlin, senior vice president for collections and site operations; Angel Lara, senior director of greenhouse collections; and Christopher Elenstar, gardens manager.
The team creatively incorporated hallmarks of Lichtenstein’s work in fabricated sets that emulate Monet’s home and grounds at Giverny. There are painted Ben Day printer dots, bold black outlines and flattened surfaces. The blue-green color from Monet’s house also pervades at Selby Gardens.
The team mixes plants that you wouldn’t normally find in Florida with native plants to mimic flowers found at Giverny that couldn’t survive here.
In the Tropical Conservatory, purple and green bromeliads grow from an arch above the backdrop of Monet’s home. Plants that feature variegated leaves were used to suggest both the soft brushstrokes of Impressionism as well as Lichtenstein’s graphic quality.
Venture through the conservatory out into the gardens, over to the koi pond. A Lichtenstein-inspired version of Monet’s Japanese footbridge spans the pond, with graphic “wisteria” hanging from it, while custom-made, angular “water lilies” float among the koi. A fabricated koi lifts his head out of the water and the word GULP! appears in a speech bubble, another nod to Lichtenstein’s comic book works.
Monet’s House in Bloom, a two-dimensional structure, has been subtly colored pink with red Ben Day dots. His cottage-style garden has been recreated, with potted plants framing the door. Benches invite the viewer to become part of the exhibition.
Haystacks are a clever optical illusion that shift colors as you pass, an homage to Monet’s and Lichtenstein’s studies that shift from morning to night.
Perhaps the exhibit’s best photo op is Water Gardens at Giverny, where Monet’s Japanese bridge was recreated. To achieve the weeping willows there that were the subject of many Monet paintings, bottlebrush trees have been planted. As a nod to Lichtenstein’s graphic weeping willows, epiphytic cactus was used. More Lichtenstein water lilies float in the pond.
Pops of vibrant flowers are showcased in Jardin de Fleurs, planted in Lichtenstein-inspired pots.
The butterfly garden gets the Lichtenstein/Monet treatment with more of the “wisterias.”
The tour ends with an intimate exhibition in the Museum of Botany and the Arts. Selfies end at the door here, as there is no photography allowed in the museum. There are archival photographs of Lichtenstein, including one of him working on a collage for his Water Lilies With Japanese Bridge, in his Southampton studio in 1992.
The exhibition centerpieces are the Lichtenstein screen prints and a drawing. After walking through gardens filled with elements of the artist’s style, seeing his work in person emphasizes the effort of the Selby team to create a unique vision.
It’s also a rare chance to see Lichtenstein’s work locally. Being in the room with the work of an American icon is always powerful.
If you go
“Roy Lichtenstein: Monet’s Garden Goes Pop” is on view through June 27. $25, $15 youth ages 4-17 and guests of members. Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, downtown Sarasota campus. The gardens are open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. The Museum of Botany and the Arts is open 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily. 1534 Mound St., Sarasota. 941-366-5731. selby.org.