Home: Budapest 1113, Diószegi út 60/a, HUNGARY
tel/fax: (361) 165-68-05.
Személyes adatok/Biographical Data:
Born 7 December, 1966, Budapest.
Married to Ferenc Szijj (writer, translator), with one son born in 1993.
1993- ELTE, Philosophy Department, Postgraduate Program in Political Philosophy
1988-92: ELTE, Philosophy Department
1985-91: ELTE, Art History Department
1985-88: ELTE, Literature Department
Degrees: 1992: M.A. in Philosophy (Thesis: "Education and the French Philosophes)
1991: M.A. in Art History (Thesis: "Eighteenth Century Sensibility and the Poet in the Landscape
Díjak és ösztöndíjak/Grants and Awards:
1996: Gérecz Attila Award for Criticism
1996: Soros Grant for Literature
1996: Institute für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, etty Grant for Translators
1991-1994: "Kállai Ernô" Grant for Art Historians
1990: "Móricz Zsigmond" Grant for Literary Studies
1989: Soros Grant for Literature
Tagságok és tevékenységek/Affiliations and activities
1996 Teaching assistant at the Philosophy Department of Eötvös Lorand University, Budapest.
1996- Editor of the political and cultural monthly, "Beszélô".
1996 - Member of the Hungarian Writersí Association
1995- Literary editor of the textbook-series of Invisible College, Budapest.
1995-1997 Member and secretary of the Board of Bródy Sándor Literary Award for first novel, collection of poetry or essays.
1995- Member of the Young Artistsí Studio.
1994- Editor of a "Literary Theory" series for Osiris-Századvég Publishing House.
1991- Member of the Young Writersí Organization.
1990-1994: Editor of the literary and art quarterly "Nappali ház".
1989 -: free-lancing critic, writer and translator working for Hungarian journals (e.g. Holmi, Jelenkor, Alföld, BUKSZ, Lettre Internationale, Jogállam, Beszélô), and dailies (Népszabadság, Magyar Hírlap).
Nyelvismeret/Languages: Hungarian, English (more or less fluent), French, German, some Italian, Latin and Russian
Fontosabb publikációk/Major Publications:
(The English title is indicated in brackets when the text did not appear in English and without brackets when it did.)
Joseph Beuys - halála után [Joseph Beuys - beyond death], Nappali ház, 1989/2;
Egy filozófus arcai - Ludwig Wittgenstein [The faces of a philosopher - Ludwig Wittgenstein], Nappali ház, 1990/4;
Kertekrôl, Nappali ház, 1991/1-2 - On Gardens (revised English version) S., Vienna 1992. summer;
Two conceptions of narrative identity - Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur, Mesotes (Ost-West Dialog), 1992/1, Bécs;
Határátlépô. Erdély Miklós (tanulmány) - Bordercrossing. Erdély Miklós (abridged version), Uj Mûvészet, 1992. április;
A vonal és a gömb. Beszélgetés El Kazovszkijjal [Line and sphere - a dialogue with El Kazovszkij], Nappali ház, 1992/4;
Chroniclers of the present? Art history and contemporary art, Yearbook of Les ateliers des interprètes, Vienna, 1993;
Nincs alvás. Garaczi László (tanulmány) [No sleep. Garaczi László], Nappali ház, 1993/1;
A délutáni alvó. Mándy Iván: Huzatban [A nap in the afternoon. Mándy Iván: Huzatban];, Holmi, 1993. április
Irónia, intenzitás, meditáció - Irony, intensity, meditation. Kis dolgok - Small Things (Fészek Klub, 1993. június; New York - Chicago, 1993 summer) katalóguselôszó/ text for the catalogue of the exhibition.
Mikor politika az irodalom? [When is literature politics?] - Jelenkor, 1994/1.
A maradék tanulmányozása. Solymosi Bálint verseirôl [Exploring the rest. On the poetry of Solymosi Bálint], in: Csipesszel a lángot? - A fiatal irodalom könyve, Nappali ház, 1994.;
Egy ihletett szerzõ (Pethõ Bertalan posztmodern-kötetérõl) [An inspired author - on the Čpostmodern" of Pethô Bertalan], BUKSZ, 1994 nyár;
Néhány gondolat az utóbbi tíz év magyar irodalmáról (svédül) [Some thoughts on the Hungarian literature of the last ten years [in Swedish]], 90-Tal, 1994 nyár/summer;
Camille Paglia Sexual Personae c. kötetérôl [On Camille Pagliaís Sexual Personae], Café Babel, 1994 nyár/summer, ČFérfi-nõ" szám;
Jól szeretni - Lator László: Szigettenger [How to love well - Lator László: Szigettenger] , Holmi, 1994/9;
A banalitás nyelve - Podmaniczky Szilárd: Haggyatok lótuszülésben [The language of banality - Podmaniczky Szilárd: Haggyatok lótuszülésben], Kortárs, 1994 szeptember;
Az elrugaszkodás - Kemény István két kötetérõl [Take-off - On two collections of poetry by Kemény István] , Nappali ház, 1994/3;
Köz (avagy: lehet-e a társadalom a képzômûvészet Ąmédiuma") - Public, or: is society a medium for art?, a Soros Kortárs Mûvészeti Központ (Soros Center for Contemporary Art) Polifónia/Poliphony, katalógus/catalogue, 1995.
Az utolsó könyv (Richard Rorty: Esetlegesség, irónia, szolidaritás) [The last book - Richard Rorty: Contigency, Irony, Solidarity], Beszélô, 1994. december.
Az elutasító kritikáról [On negative criticism], Holmi, 1995/5.
Farkas Zsolt: Mindentôl ugyanannyira [Cruelty and Criticism. Essay on a collection of essays by Farkas Zsolt], Holmi, 1995/7.
A legkevesebb - The very least, a Fiatal Képzômûvészek Stúdiójának kiállítási katalógusa/ exhibition catalogue of the Young Artistsí Studio, Hamburg, 1995.
A város és a filozófus (Leo Strauss - Joseph Cropsey: A politikai filozófia története) [The city and the philosopher - on Leo Straussí and Joseph Cropseyís History of Political Philosophy], Beszélô, 1995, március.
Most, hogy ugyanúgy, mint mindig, legfôbb ideje, hogy - Tandori Dezsô képeirôl - Now that itís like always, it is high time to - of the pictures of Dezsô Tandori, Liget Galéria, 1995 július, katalógusszöveg/catalogue. Újra megjelent/reprinted in 2000, 1995/10.
A véghetetlen vég. Perneczky Géza és a mûvészet vége, BUKSZ, 1995/tél - An end without end. The impending end of art, Budapest Review of Books, 1995/winter.
A szent melengetett helye. Tandori Dezsô vállalkozásáról [Keeping warm a place for the sacred. On what Dezsô Tandori is doing.], Alföld, 1995/12.
El Hassan Rosa munkáiról - Ueber den Werke von Rosa El-Hassan, catalogue, Hans Knoll, 1996, Wien.
Reading A. C. Danto - On Interpretation, in: Newsletter of IHS, 1996/March - May.
A derû épülete - An Edifice to Mirth (Ács Irénrôl - Irén Ácsís photography), introduction to the book, Jövendô, Budapest, 1996.
"Perfection - A Sketch of an Ideal" - presentation for the IWM Junior Conference, forthcoming at the Institute for the Human Sciences, Vienna.
Elaljasultunk: minden hülyeség, minden hülyeség: elaljasultunk (Tandori Dezsô és Szôcs Géza új könyveirôl), Beszélô, 1996 október.
John Gray balladája, Beszélô, 1996 december.
Az emberiség göcsörtös fája (a politikai pszichológiáról), ÉS, 1996 január.
Siralmas posztmodern, in: Amerika, Replika-könyvek, megjelenés elôtt.
A zseni logikai analízise, A.C. Danto: A közhely színeváltozása, ÉS, 1997 febuár 15.
"Szeressétek Fridit" - tanulmány egy tervezett Friderikusz Sándor-kötetbe, szerk. Dessewffy Tibor, megjelenés elôtt.
A book of selected and new essays was published in May, 1996: A ház, a kert, az utca [The House, the Garden, the Street], JAK-Balassi, Budapest, 242 pages.
Kiállítások/Exhibitions organized by:
1995 March: Átváltoztatás [The Great Transformation], "Studio Nights", Stúdió Galéria, Budapest.
1996 February: A legkevesebb [The Very Least], Ernst Múzeum, Budapest.
Fontosabb fordítások/Major Translations:
Fehér, Ferenc: The Frozen Revolution, Essays on Jacobinism (with Júlia Vajda, Magvetô, Budapest, 1989).
Avineri, Shlomo: The Intellectual Origins of Zionism (Századvég, 1993).
de Maistre, Joseph: Considérations sur la France (Századvég/Osiris, 1993).
Eighteenth Century Scottish Philosophy (Essays and letters by David Hume, Adam Smith, etc, Osiris, 1993).
Manent, Pierre: Histoire intellectuelle du liberalisme (Tanulmány, 1994).
Derrida, Jacques: De líesprit (with Gergely Angyalosi, Osiris/Gond, 1994).
Bloch, Marc: Le métier de líhistorien (Osiris, 1995).
Jefferson, Ann - Robey, David: Modern Literary Theory (Osiris, 1995).
Rawls and After. Contemporary Political Philosophy (Invisible College/Osiris, 1995).
Bíró, Yvette: Rhabiller un nu (Osiris, 1996).
Danto, A. C.: The Philosophical Disenfranchisment of Art (forthcoming at Atlantisz Publishing House).
Szövegek / Texts
Public (or: a relationship in between)
Irony, intensity, meditation
Reading Arthur C. Danto
Historians of the present? Art history and contemporary art
(or: a relationship in between)
A piece of painting, provocative gesture, conceptual project-work or meditative act - in any case, one of the characteristics of art is the fact that it depicts something, depicts society, and therefore has to deal with it as a fixed entity. On the other hand it communicates with the entity it depicts: interferes with it, becomes part of it, transforms it. It is within and it is without. And the greater the autonomy of art, the more disturbing this duality, the more problematic and perspicuous the relationship of autonomous art and society.
But what should be understood by the statement that social context is one of the potential media of art? First of all we must assume that such an art means something different form political art or propaganda (from the poster-art of Chéri Samba to the subversive alternativity of Stewart Home), and so it is different from the art of public space which is formed by a "social patron's" wishes. It may seem that in terms of a relationship of art and society we should focus on "socially sensitive" art. Art may seem to be able to formulate social problems with its own autonomous means. However, modern art since Georg Grosz has not been able to unite explicit social critique and the artistic techniques demanded by an immanent logic of art development (if there is such a thing): the art in the second half of the twentieth century is, at least in the literal sense of representation, not representational art.
It is not easy to answer the question what autonomous art does when it relates to a social context - how the fact that we all, artists and others, are part of societal institutions, can be translated into a problem of art. (This embarrassment, the lack of evident answers is reflected in the diversity of works in Polifonia.) The gigantic metaphor of Joseph Beuys, Sozialplastik seems to imply the malleability of society - a new Promethean myth. But is it not some kind of self-deception when the professional or semi-professional artist of the twentieth century, nurtured by art institutions, looks upon himself as a semi-god, thief of fire and maker of man?
I don't think it is necessary to go as far as that if we want to acknowledge the desire of the artist who touches public space or social problems with the same kind of form-giving instinct that directs his hands when touching clay or paint. I don't think art can offer valid solutions or valid explanations for the problems of society. What it can offer is a brief culmination, an encounter of two kinds of logic, two kinds of being. An immediacy, a relation that makes sense only because otherwise it could not be present, because art nowadays has nothing to do with what is called "society" - unless society means the societal institutions of art. I think the special "aesthetic" relationship of modern art and society begins after the other, the "social" relationship had ended. That's what we should look at first.
If Hans Belting is right, till the end of the middle ages or the renaissance there was no art, there were only pictures and the various - sacred and profane - functions of pictures. The picture was the incarnation of its function and the function was the thread that wove the picture into the world - "society" - that is the relationship itself. Thus there was no problem of art and society, and even if there was, it was a theological or political problem. The eighteenth century - if I can make such a hasty generalisation - discovered the problem of "within and without" and gave an answer, such an answer that is hardly available in our days. The answer is moral or political education through art. On could say of course that this answer has not disappeared, that a number of nineteenth and twentieth century artists aimed at some moral or political effect and sometimes not without success. However, the "society" the eighteenth century artist educated (and entertained) was no "context", it was his subject and public. It was not an ambience, frightful, as it is, in its alienation or functionality, it was knowledge, common knowledge. It was not a medium of autonomous art but its subject and animating element.
Shaftesbury said that the purpose of painting is "helping society, and communion of thought and sense; information mutual, delightful" . "Communion" and "information" sound strange for the modern ear: Shaftesbury draws no sharp line between communion, community and communication, the transmission and reception of knowledge and meaning and the unit of information. He draws no sharp line between society and meaning. "Society" for him is a moral community - although it does not cover the everybody of fluxus -, in which body and object is endowed with meaning, a common meaning that mildly unites individuals into a society. In this respect it is not very important whether this ideal common meaning reflects "patriotic", "peaceful commercial" or simply "human" values (on this point Reynolds and Fuseli, Diderot and Rousseau or Goethe and the infuriated romantic circle of Fichte's disciples were in disagreement): the number values to be represented is limited and the artist (or the patron) is required to choose - if he chooses - as an educated and enlightened citizen, keeping in sight the good of the community or humanity.
It is must be clear after all this why "social context" could and why it could not be a "medium" of art in the eighteenth century. As its element and transmission channel it necessarily and always was a medium of art, for a work of art couldn't have had meaning and value without it. On the other hand - as its subject or form - it could not be a medium of art because the art with "social" subjects and the art of the public space was a social utilisation of art and not an artistic utilisation's of society. In the eighteenth century the artist related to society as its member (creator and dependent part), and only thus, and - perhaps with the exception of the prophetic Blake - he was satisfied with that. The artist had no authority to reinterpret society and the public space. The political or the moral meaning of the latter was defined by the community of by the patron: it was more like the art of public space and public buildings which nowadays, too stands apart form the processes of autonomous art. As to the autonomy of art, it implied only that painting is a special craft with its own values which - as far as it doesn't come to meaning - are more or less independent from the values of society. Rather less than more: "Indeed, I don't know what to say of this man. Moral degeneration is followed by decay in taste, composition, character, expression and design. And what could this artist paint anyway? Only what is present in his imagination, and what could be in the imagination of someone who spends his time with the basest prostitutes." (Such judgements quickly pass away. The above outburst by Diderot was directed against Boucher who, from the modern perspective of autonomous aesthetics, ranks above Greuze, the moral painter of Diderot.)
If public space could not be a medium for autonomous art in the eighteenth century, what new meaning did society acquire, and what new definition art that makes possible such a turn? And how could it be that the subversive instinct of art is unimpaired at the end of the twentieth century (even though it cannot take the form of an explicit social criticism in the subject of the work ) when the metaphor of mirror - temporarily or for ever, one can only guess - has been long submerged in the mortuary of aesthetic concepts?
Jürgen Habermas, one of the major contemporary German philosophers defines the basic feature of modernity - after Max Weber - as "disenchantment": rationalisation, secularisation, the separation of different functional spheres of values and logic, economics, politics (or bureaucratic administration) and aesthetics, and its plight as the impoverishment and colonialization of "Lebenswelt", that is of everyday private and social existence. The job is to re-conquer the Lebenswelt and the means are communicative action that reconstitute the cultural - political, moral, aesthetic - net that in the eighteenth century held together society and held together the value-system of the individual and of art. Habermas, the defender of modernity in post-modern debates, would give a role to art in this process. What he does not see is that what he trusts, the reintegration of art into the Lebenswelt and the rollback of the professional bent, the claims of the qualified interpreter, in order to liberate "profane" interpretation, would put an end to something without which art is unable to confront the logic of society with its own logic (and without which it would be unable to rebel against a new and much less utopian form of social integration, the integration through the market): it would put an end to this almost inconceivable autonomy of modern art.
But before concluding hastily that society can be a medium for autonomous art and an object of subversion only when art looks at it from without, when it turns against it and persistently keeps itself in opposition - that would be a myth of art maudit, of an accursed art that prefers the company of prostitutes - we should look at some examples of the use of social context and public space.
At this point - as in so many others - the history of modern art can be traced back to Dada. Raoul Hausmann reports how he and Johannes Baader celebrated the 100th anniversary of Gottfried Keller, in an "glowing summer night" in 1918. Baader suddenly remembered that it was the anniversary of Keller. They stood in the middle of Rheinstrasse, in Friedenau, twilight was coming, a tramway passed by under the trees. Baader by accident had a book of Keller with him, Green Henry. They stood under a streetlight and started reading. They recited the text, thumbing to and fro in the book. They recited meaningless fragments, alternating the rhythm and the tone of their voice. They were not aware the passers-by and did not notice anybody turning attention to their performance. They thought the words of the book "began to fly" and acquire "a meaning beyond all meanings" in the rapture of reciting. When they got tired with it, they sat somewhere in a cafe and for an hour had a chat in a non-existent, pseudo-psychoanalytic language with their beer in their hands.
Hans Richter in his general history and memoir of Dada in which he himself commemorates this event, looking back from the sixties calls the happening-art of Allan Kaprow the only authentic heir of Dada. In an enthusiastic language he recalls one of the happenings which took place "in the enormous courtyard of a skyscraper, the Mills Hotel in the Village". "A Ritual! - he says - It was a composition using space, colour and movement, and the setting in which the Happening took place gave it a nightmarish, obsessive quality, although "the meaning" of the "action" was more or less non-existent. This combination of acting, dramatic arrangement, colour and sound recalled the Gesamtkunstwerk of Kandinsky, Ball and others. It required the collaboration of the public." And Allan Kaprow himself, in an early article emphasizes the environment and the participation of the audience: "To my way of thinking, Happenings posses some crucial qualities which distinguish them form the usual theatrical works, even the experimental ones of today. First, there is the context, the place of conception and enactment. The most intense and essential happenings have been spawned in old lofts, basements, vacant stores, in natural surroundings and in the street, where very small audiences, or groups of visitors, are commingled in some way with the event, flowing in and among its parts. (...) The sheer rawness of the out-of-doors, or the closeness of dingy city quarters, in which the radical Happenings flourish, are more appropriate, I believe, in temperament and un-artiness, to the materials and directness of these works. The place where anything grows up (a certain kind of art in this case), that is its "habitat", hives to it not only a space, a set of relationships to various things around it, but an over-all atmosphere, as well, which penetrates it and whoever experiences it."
And if I want to add some other, contemporary Hungarian examples, I could mention the "building-theatre" of Endre Lábass or, even more, the work of elek is (István Elek) in Budapest: the "reconquering of Butapest (= silly Pest)".
These actions are indeed "reconquests", but - as opposed to Habermas who clings to his Enlightenment - they are able to retain the paradox that is inherent in the autonomy of art. It is not a moral bond they reconstitute, and not the meaning of a unified culture, but sacredness: they endow the space with a meaning that cannot be recaptured in a rational way, "a meaning beyond meaning" - so Hausmann - ,"a ritual" - so Richter - , "mystery" - so Allan Kaprow.
This momentary sacredness, which is all the more ungraspable as it is not bound to any institution, religion or doctrine, is ruled not only by the laws of beauty - although they have an indispensable part in it - but also by the logic of paradox and the logic of chaos: it is the interference of two systems, two kinds of meaning. It is disorder. The meaning of sacredness is not denial - even if all we can speak about is denial: that of the bourgeois culture of the golden fin de siècle with Dada, that of art institutions with Allan Kaprow and that of a disfigured Budapest with István Elek. The meaning of sacredness is transcendence, the withdrawal of profane (social or institutional) logic, a liberating cataclysm. Everything is fluid, anything can become a prophetic sign and in the functional space a speaking spirit appears. Of course society, taken as the sum of institutions and communicative processes, is hardly shaken by such a miniature cataclysm. But it does shatter the society in those present for, as we have seen, society is more than facts or contexts: it is knowledge.
This temporary convulsion is one of the most effective - and heretofore inconceivable because inadmissible - form of how art can deal with society, however, not its only form. The sacral treatment of public space resists the rationalisation, "disenchantment" that is regarded as an attribute and a predicament of modern age. Antal Lakner, when he returns from Emmenthal with a huge piece of "Emmenthaler" cheese and distributes it among his friends with a ceremonial gesture, does something similar. He re-enacts the ceremony of a meal with the ironic rhetoric of exaggeration and re-enchants a disenchanted family - or social - event. And Ágnes Eperjesi and Tibor Várnagy with their "documenting" art again do something similar when they create metaphoric environments of photomontages to commemorate their common life (the most beautiful example of this was their "Seeds" in Studio Gallery, 1992), and thereby transfer something disenchanted into the sphere of magic.
The most original interpreter of the relationship of art and social context is Christo - one of the most ingenious artistic manipulators of society. Christo's concern are neither public space and its unknown sacredness, nor the disenchanted events of everyday life but actual social processes: institutions, symbols and channels of information. As Werner Spies justly observes, for Christo in wrapping the process of realisation and the publicity is as much important as the visual result. Running Fence or Surrounded Islands are the most important works of modern absurd: they are the triumph of an idea over reason and functional rationality. And this triumph is gained with the weapons of the antagonist.
When Christo realised Running Fence, he had to convince all the farmers whose field the work ran through and he signed 59 individual contracts . With Surrounded Islands he fought a battle with the administration of Miami, the local greens and the press that was rather hostile towards the project. He hired hundreds of people to sew the plastic sheets surrounding the islands, to clean up the islands and to unfold the sheets. He convinced Citybank to finance the project, with a loan that was repaid by selling the drawing and collages made for the project. He has found the only manufacturer who could produce the plastic sheets in the required colour and quality. He made as precise plans as an engineer would, counting with all the requirements of industrial standardisation. When in May, 1983 the project was realised, and the islands of Biscayne Bay were encircled by rose plastic belts, undulating on the dark turquoise sea, for two weeks, the work was reviewed in the front-pages of the newspapers- among other of the New York Times that recently had condemned another, unrealised, project of Christo (for the Central Park) as egotistic waste of money. In Miami a whole tourist industry developed around the work during the two weeks it could be seen and the main problem of the public in town was how to find a place in flat Miami from where the islands could be observed. As Spies observes, Christo knowingly includes the social reaction and opposition into his work. The goal is set by autonomous art - this time the visual archetype is Monet's water-lilies -, but realisation has a direct, not-at-all-symbolic relationship with reality.
Above I referred to the reconquest of public space, its sacral treatment. As opposed to this, Christo's works are not sacral in the least, they are closer to spectacular circences in which a real social event, moving masses of people, combines with aesthetics. Christo does not shatter normal social processes - he uses them and, through mass media, infuses them with art. The importance of "forming" the public in his works is well illustrated if we compare the wrapping of Reichstag, yet not realised but since 1977 present on the agenda of Christo, and a similar Hungarian work, the project of "The Statue of the Phantom of Liberty" in which the Liberty-statue on Gellérthegy (Buda) was clothed in a ghost's gown.
The project of wrapping the Reichstag was examined by the highest political leadership in Germany - in 1977 it was Willy Brandt who assured Christo of his full support , now it is Rita Süssmuth. Since 1977 great changes swept over German history but Christo - and this is of utmost importance - considers his project as actual as ever: what was to symbolise Germany facing her past, now can be a symbol of the problems of German unity. The meaning of the work is secondary: its meaning is constituted in its reception, in the public . Christo with his gesture does no more than opens up this process of meaning.
The Hungarian project, the "Statue of the Phantom of Liberty", perhaps due to the lack of a gradual and cogent introduction, perhaps because of a higher stimulus threshold or a basic passivity in the Hungarian public, foundered at this important, even decisive point: even though the ghastly veil was proudly flapping up the hill, the media did not pay much attention to it, the public even less. The spirit got stuck in the bottle of a strait avantgardism, an artistic ghetto.
The manipulation of monuments and other symbolic points should be given a whole chapter (from the rising of the Berlin wall to the projected transformations of Krysztof Wodiczko ) in a future handbook of "art transforming society", but its principle is basically identical with one of the techniques of the unique Christo: through the symbols in the public space it manipulates a special kind of societal knowledge. Another, more covert solution is chosen by the artist who, instead of symbolic points, uses information channels - publishes fake ads, displays posters of events that never take place, publishes absurd news in the local paper , up to the group (but not artists, I presume) around Hirdetés or Magyar Narancs with their senseless ads. In Hungary a grand scale-version of this technique is used by Csaba Nemes who recently (and also in the work done for Polifonia ) deals with billboard posters and earlier had a fake cheque-action of similar vein.
I haven't spoken of the simplest kind of relation between art and society: decoration. It is a strange paradox, a strange discrepancy: the aesthetics of beauty perhaps never had a monopoly in art and its importance was at its highest - but still not exclusive - in those decades (again in the eighteenth century) when the beauty-centred systems of aesthetics, still regarded as our standards, were formulated. Beauty, which seemingly should be the heart of the autonomy of art, is almost irrelevant in modern art: the aesthetics of beauty is the banner of design, not of autonomous art. In an issue of Kunstforum which deals with art in the public space, Wolfgang Welsch revolts against the aesthetics of beauty with all the bitterness of a disgusted consume-citizen. The job of a contemporary work of art, he says, in such a "hyperesthetic" environment is not to increase beauty but to put one off beauty: to open a rift on our ornate environment .
Is there anything common in re-enchantment, manipulation as art and the breaking of beauty? To identify this common point, we have to leave the logic of autonomous art and return to the unity of art and Lebenswelt, to Habermas. The lasting form of the relationship of society and art in the twentieth century, I think, is not social criticism but the continuation of this nostalgic unity, the refusal of the separation of functional spheres and the quarrel with smooth functional rationality. It is the reconstitution of a special kind of relationship, a relationship that is exempted from the rules of social institution and social knowledge.
Irony, intensity, meditation
In the last few decades Hungarian artists had to cope with all sorts of problems -- from lack of publicity and understanding to the procurement of materials necessary for their work. One, however: dictatorship in the realm of arts and artistic megalomania has never been part of the heritage of Hungarian art. The predominant experience of Hungarian artists in the past decades -- or even centuries -- was struggle for survival.
In the period of the three "T"-s -- when the three labels "tiltott" (banned), "tûrt" (tolerated) and "támogatott" (supported) determined the place of works in the space of publicity -- artists emigrated or survived within the confines of the cosy, informal communities of fellow artists and other friends. Then, in the "rosier" eighties, the experimental avantgardism and its political romanticism was followed -- and partly replaced -- by New Painting, the pleasure of colours that had not much to do with the political and artistic messianism of the past decades. This new kind of art could more easily explore the international scene and was granted a new type of publicity -- it can be even said to be somewhat cynical and much more market-oriented.
The youngest generation, emerging in the mid-eighties, was "born" into an emancipated art scene open to international influences but otherwise chronically unsound. In this new openness and variety which at first glance withstands all categorization some interesting trends can be discerned. Meditative works using minimalist methods and new materials or techniques, stressing the conceptual or spiritual aspects abound and a new, grotesque or provocative playfulness and a fanciful kind of humour have become basic features. To mention only two art-groups, an important protagonist of the first kind of trend is the group "Újlak" (the name derives from a demolished cinema where they used to work) of which several members participate in the present exhibition. The second trend had been pursued with unmatched cheerfulness by the Hejettes Szomlyazók (Substitute Thirsters) which has by now disintegrated. Balázs Beöthy and Rolland Pereszlényi used to belong to this group.
This meditative or conceptual element -- as opposed to the conceptual art of the seventies -- with most of these young artists does not ignore sensuality, and is deeply sensitive towards materials and forms. Zoltán Ádám, member of the group "Újlak", has combined a wooden idol of deep and intense sorrow (earlier he worked with sacred icon-like wooden boards, painting and scratching their surface) and the media-sensitivity and conceptual propensity of "Újlak" in his Indian head which is attached to a tape-recorder. Another member of the group, Tamás Komoróczky performs an ironic play with bottles -- as inclusive and delineative (exclusive) forms -- with a result that is as much formal as conceptual.
István Szili's huge fingernails or letters enclose the same kind of "residual element" that cannot be revealed through conceptual analysis -- his works in a way are as simple as a slap in the face. János Sugár, on the other hand, nowadays -- after works that combined visual delicacy and abstract diagram-like structures -- deals with more strictly conceptual problems -- his "counterfeit money" is an enigmatic object that comes to life only as a germ of the future, as creativity oriented towards the future, therefore its enigmatic quality and unfinished state are part of its very essence.
Rolland Pereszlényi is a master of secret relations, "objets trouvées" and symbolic networks and messages behind a screen of sensual subtleties - the fork holding the Berlin-version of the mysterious green of Verona (the shade of which is unknown) is again a product of that prudent magic that draws an ever-expanding circle of associations around common objects of our everyday life. Gyula Várnai works with trivial objects too, which are submerged in a semi-oblivion. However, he creates his melancholic constellations from ruins, chair legs, upholstery, half-bricks which lose their object-like qualities and generate a wholly new space around themselves.
Balázs Beöthy uses clearer conceptual clues -- as in the "equation" on display in which the glass-half and the adhering glass plane are of the same weigh --, however, neither can his work be reduced to the conceptual component, as a special sensitivity towards materials, the sensual qualities of the glass, the parquet-pieces or the light as material have an important part to play. In the recent plaster works of András Böröcz the dividing line between the idea, the conceptual core and the strange and delicate metamorphoses of the material is blurred in a similar way. His plaster hemisphere with the central parts of bulbs is as much an encounter of the easily malleable material and the industrial object as a metaphorical play with the source of light and the idea of the one and the many.
Gyula Július has been consistently developing his unique synthesis that unites visual decorativeness, scientific mobiles, an abstract play with the chemical components on materials and a more traditional "thematic" conceptual art. The "Great New York Power Cut" which is enlivened through an ironic double move -- through the frame and the title -- belongs in the series of "pictures" made of beautifully corroding copper planes, other metals and galvanic cells.
The photo-boxes of Péter Szarka on which he has fixed "faithful quotations" -- photos of Russian painters from the turn of the century -- are again the products of a conceptual play that blends medium, theme and technique and upon these confused relations he builds his new, multifaceted but still object-like and picture-like works. The globe of András Ravasz also relies on the play with iconic symbolism -- intentionally he misunderstands the simplistic figure and with a naive syllogism he transforms it into an ironic symbol.
Imre Bukta is a kind of "agricultural" artist -- he deals with the tilled or killed land, animals, life in the country, and creates a sardonic and acerbic world around them that contains gum boots, sick pigs, watering figures and dead trees among others. These motifs are then combined in all ways and materials and the final ensembles can frequently be read as narratives. That's how "pálinka" (the strong Hungarian liqueur made of fruits), the flag, the bull and the angry inscription "fÚsenï" (not even grass) become components of one single object.
László (László) Révész is doing a light-hearted kind of painting which is imbued with fun -- he combines shirts and perspective into "shirtperspective", whereas Gábor Roskó who made a name for himself with grotesque and masterly water-colours, adds some further dimensions to his present work: he multiplies himself by contrasting a precious photo of his childhood with a new drawing as a kind of mirror. The third (mainly) painter among the participants, Péter Újházi also brought an object to the exhibition that can display a more complex and more closed little world within the limits set by the organizers. His work -- through its intricate metaphors -- can be admitted into the same realm as most of the exhibits - into the triangle of irony, intensity and meditation.
Reading Arthur C. Danto
I. On interpretation
So it happened that I, an art critic, was recently asked by a photographer to write an introduction to her album and a young artist to write an essay for her catalogue. And so it happened that at the same time I was translating Danto, translating Dantoís essays The Appreciaton and Interpretation of Art and Deep Interpretation. A real quagmire: interpreting somebodyís art while translating (interpreting!) someone elseís theory of interpretation stating that interpretation is all important in art. Dantoís very radical thesis about works of art and real things is well known: it is only artistic interpretation that makes a mere real thing a work of art because for each and every work of art you can imagine a mere thing that looks exactly like the work of art in question even though it is not a work of art. Compare the urinal by Mott Works and the urinal, titled Fountain, by Duchamp, or the Brillo Box in the supermarket and the Brillo Box in the gallery. Although one may wonder whether a piece of canvas on wood with patches of paint on it, looking exactly like the Woman weighing pearls by Jan Vermeer, would not give as much perceptual or sensual pleasure as the work by Vermeer, even if it were, against all probability, a wonder of nature or a product of a two-year-old, it must be admitted that interpreting such a piece would be out of question. It would be as absurd to do it as if we wanted to interpret the same work reproduced in an advertisment of a jewelry shop. Is it because it is artistic interpretation that makes a thing art or is it because we know very well what is to be interpreted in terms of art? The first answer - Dantoís answer - is a realist solution: artistic interpretation does indeed transfigure or transubstantiate things into art. Artistic interpretation, then, adds something to the real thing, invests it with a new power, but to bring out this new power we need interpretation. The second answer is a hegelian one: indeed, what nowadays we, art-fans and conoisseurs need is not so much art, or art-as-sensual-pleasure, or art-as-mastery but art-as-meaning. We want the artists to produce meanings for us, meanings embodied in works of art. We want art that can be interpreted. Such is our "era of reflection".
The question is inevitable: whose interpretation, which interpretation makes art? Obviously, itís better not to start with the hard facts of todayís art machinery, the intepretation industry of catalogues, magazines, books and art departments - the interpretation industry of what is called the "art world". Danto, true heir to an empiricist-analytical tradition, distrusts all interpretation that does not refer to the "mental content" or the intentions of the artist. That is, he is strongly in favor of what he calls "surface interpretation" against "deep interpretation" which wants to know better than the author. For such is the technology of "humansciences", as he dubs them, that they produce interpretations that cannot be tested by any means; psychoanalytical, hermeneutical, deconstructionist, political or even economic readings where the only authority is the interpreterís scientific self (or, let me add this, his collegues in the same branch of humanities and the editors of the journals he wants to publish in). It is this strict distinction between surface and deep interpretation that I would like to challenge here in order to arrive at a notion of interpretation that allows the critic to know better than the artist, without thereby destroying the artistís authority.
Danto obviously prefers the artistsí authority to the authority of highly educated bookworms. I wonder whether it is not a new appearance of the long tradition of the artist-genius: his or her interpretation is divine for it can transfigure a mere thing into art, whereas all other interpretations are necessarily profane and they should not try to transfigure anything for that would be a kind of blasphemy or black magic. And what is more, it seems that there is some circularity here. Is not the artist defined thereby as the one whose interpretation we accept as transfigurative? But letís accept for the moment this unquestioned privilage of the artist. Even then, even if one is not afraid of the blame that comes with the so-called "intentional fallacy", that is, even if one is ready to admit that although we may not always know what the artist was really after, sometimes we are able to ask him or her (or read his or her statements), and then his or her word is to be taken as the final word on the matter, the problem of interpretation still persists. It persists because interpretations are made of sentences and works of art are made of - well, whatever they are made of, they are certainly not simply texts, unless we extend the notion of the "text", in a semiotic fashion, to everything that can be interpreted. But lets not take that route of making things complicated by comparing them to something very different.
Let me go back to my photographer and my conceptual artist. The photographer says, referring to a certain photo among a series of photos with the same subject: "Thatís it! We take this one. With these women, they are so... so... I donít know why, I just see this is the best one. Of course you have to cut it here." And the young artist says, referring to her new project: "You see, it is time, somehow it is time that interests me. These nows, or I donít know. I donít know yet... Iíll put these little things in a row, connect them with a string, or a wire? Of course they are all symbolic, but, you see, only for me, it is not so important, I could not really tell their meanings." Would it make an interpretation if we reproduced these tentative words, indicating even the ostentative gestures, side by side with the works in question? Perhaps it would be very interesting, as it is very interesting to read Motherwell or de Kooning about Motherwell or de Kooning. But if you need an interpretation of what Motherwell (or de Kooning) were doing, you read Clement Greenberg (and either like it or not). The very fact that interpretation is made of sentences, sentences that cannot rely on ostentative gestures and that should be coherent enough or in some other way connected to constitute a text, implies that interpretation will always be more than what the artist (or most artists) can say. Because their art is the art of making art, and interpretation requires the art of telling, the art of writing and the art of reasoning. If you read Danto, you will not fail to notice how admirably skilled writer and reasoner he is. You have to know more and say more than the artist could if your ambition is to be an interesting or an amusing critic. And when, whether by divine grace or conscious effort, you succeed in being one, in your texts there will often be allusions, ideas, theories and values that the artist commented shall have never heard of. Such as the analytical problems of identity, the theory of art as interpretation, the theory of deep and surface, and so on, to mention only a few philosophical concepts that one finds in Dantoís criticism.
Inevitably, there must be a golden mean between plain surface interpretation (which would involve reproducing the statements of the artist) and this detestable deep interpretation that uses or abuses the work for its own purposes. The golden mean, as we all know from Aristotle, requires phronesis, practical wisdom that cannot be squeezed into eternal precepts. But if precepts cannot be given, the space and the language of this ideal kind of interpretation perhaps can be described more closely. Let me invoke here, despite Dantoís obvious distrust, the hermeneutics of Hans-Georg Gadamer. Gadamer, if I understand him right, places his conception of hermeneutics in the tradition of humanism and tries to prove that in humanism it is the judgement of sensus communis, of a shared understanding of the world, that plays the crucial part. Sensus communis, in his interpretation, whether it be correct or false from a historical point of view, is not a sense-organ, an organ of perception, but a kind of historical, moral and political knowledge and experience that are born out of a historical culture and reflect upon this historical culture. I think the space and the language of this golden mean of interpretation is very similar to Gadamerís version of humanism. What it means is that interpretation has to rely on this sensus communis of a historical culture, receiving the necessary surplus of skills, meanings, ideas and values from this space of culture, from the traditions of telling, writing, arguing as such and telling, writing, arguing about art.
And what then? This is obviously an inevitable process, whether we want it or not. But even if this is a truism about writing in general, it may have some morals with respect to the artistic interpretation that transfigures mere objects into works of art. Is artistic interpretation the personal interpretation of this unique individual, this creative genius, the artist? Then he, indeed, creates as nature does (this is Kantís definition of the genius): he does not need the help of any culture and his critic has to be very careful when relying - inevitably - on culture, in order not to miss his originality. Or is it that the artist, too, is heir to different traditions of art and language, whether he knows it or not, and his interpretation is a cultural interpretation, the same way as his interpreterís interpretation? Then, suddenly, his place is not so privileged, after all. He, when transfiguring, interprets the same traditions that his critic interprets, and not necessarily being a critic or a man of clear judgments and powerful words, he may not interpret it as fully and as consciously as his critic should do. What is more, in either case, art is something public. It is almost impossible to imagine a work of art that is not to be seen, that is forever to be hidden in the artistís private sphere and is to be destroyed after his death. But if art is public, then the artistic interpretation, the very essence of art, should be somehow public, too. It should be public not in the sense of being publicized (although thatís one possibility) but in the sense of being relevant, whatever that means. And the question of what is relevant cannot be decided by the artist alone, it is decided by no one, in the first place, but it is articulated or expressed by everyone, though, of course, not necessarily in unison. I think it is in this public cacophonia that the interpreter or the critic tries to write, to interpret, to argue, to influence, to form Ďopinioní, or even to create a temporary and fragile sensus communis, as the great critics did.
In one of his essays on interpretation Danto suggests that perhaps the interpretation of art, that is, surface interpretation could be the model of the future human sciences (that are to replace the present Ďhumansciencesí). On the one hand, we can, of course, say that there is already such a human science: the verstehende sociology of Max Weber with its emphasis on gemeinter Sinn and methodological individualism. On the other hand, we have already seen that surface interpretation, when confined strictly to the intentions or mental contents of the artist (or social actor), is doomed to remain very fragmentary and - if I may suggest so - unsatisfactory and uninteresting. Art being public means that we are interested in what it means for us, why it is relevant for us, and that is something that its maker, however original he or she is, cannot know. If art interpretation is to be a model for human science, then this human science will not be satisfied with merely describing intentions, even if they are available, but will look for relevance in the same way as the judgment rooted in Gadamerís humanistic sensus communis, i.e. common culture, would do. And then, alas, we are back again at the lamented relativism or the much praised pluralism of modern culture that makes it difficult to claim for interpretation (any kind) an ultimate verifiability or at least falsifiability that could give us the pleasant self-confidence of step by step getting closer to some eternal Truth.
Historians of the present? Art history and contemporary art
As it is suggested by the question in the title, I do believe that there is indeed one important theoretical question concerning the relationship of contemporary art historians and contemporary art which is more than mere sophistication: whether an art historian should behave as he/she were the final judgement of history or, rather, there should be no privileged position for the art historian as an art historian.
But let's start with very rudimentary questions. We may ask, being art historians, whether the methods of art history could be applied to contemporary art or not, and to what extent or with what kind of precautions.
The question in fact refers to two problems, not only one: the first is a practical one - whether all or some of the accepted methods and concepts of art history can be used to (i) describe, (ii) classify, (iii) interpret and (iv) to evaluate works of contemporary artists or trends in contemporary art. The second one is more theoretical: if we start with works and not from existing methods, we may ask whether what we want to know about these works is the same kind of knowledge, classification and interpretation that we try to discover when dealing with works of the past. In the last analysis these problems lead us to the difference between past and presence - whether it is adequate to address our culture, or present with historical methods.
Obviously, historical enquiry can and should account for the historical shift in the institutions and ideologies of art which resulted in the disappearance of canonical subjects and themes - the disappearance of iconography - and which denied or reevaluated questions of style and stylistic heritages. Icons are not given thematic frameworks any more, with certain rules, but conscious artistic quotations or - perhaps - unconscious repetitions of archetypical units.
The first sub-question is whether the canonical units of art history: works, personal styles, schools, regional differences, epoches on the one hand and iconographical frames, prescriptions, traditions, etc. on the other, still make sense when we speak about contemporary art. In a less rigorous sense they certainly do. There are movements (instead of styles or schools) and there are identifiable artistic problems (space, colour, light, objects, materials, philosophical problems, etc.). But one problem remains: we cannot know in advance what is art and what is not. And to tell art works from non-art is to evaluate.
However, as the new canon of progress and pure creativity in art seems to outdo all other criteria - such as mastering the art or the subject, faithfulness to reality or ideality, intellectual intricacies, etc. in the description, and what is more, evaluation of art works the art critic or art historian apparently has to fall back upon what is given: being progressive, that is, (good) art equals being new(er) art.
If art historians are to have an active role in the making of art history, it seems to me that the principle of history (or historical progress) is insufficient to evaluate or judge: we need independent criteria - esthetics, if you like - to avoid the pitfalls of total conformity - extolling or sanctifying in the name of history anything that is already given or is said to be new.
Mikl¢s Erdāly, the most influential, outstanding and truly exceptional Hungarian artist-poet-theoretician of the late seventies and early eighties stated as his first thesis on art: art is an empty word, anything is art what is said to be so. And his second thesis: beauty, again, is an empty word: beauty is something you cannot speak about. And certainly these are the challenges that any description or evaluation of modern art has to meet. Historicity, speaking in the name of history, is to accept these theses, connoisseurship, speaking in the name of the love of art and an understanding of artistic problems, is to refute them.
If we classify the methods of art history according to what they want to show, there are, in my opinion, two main kinds: the one determines certain historical parameters of the work - what it is exactly, who had done it, for whom, for what purpose, what kind of technical and artistic knowledge - available at the time - is embodied in it. With regard to the present, the recording of these facts is more or less the task of a chronicler or a journalist - it should be done but it is not historical inquiry. The history of art was always meant to be more than a chronicle of art(i)facts - it was an interpretation of history (as progress, as cultural shifts, as personal biographies). I think it is essentially a search for meaning.
IV. Meaning. Esthetics or analysis
Meaning of course is something that can always be looked for. Iconology, reception-analysis, psychological, sociological, political and philosophical aspects of art are all important facets of meaning. Historical examinations search for documents, data, facts and historical circumstances, including personal opinions, spiritual trends, etc. - they try to place the work in a context, that illuminates the various meanings bestowed upon it by its contemporaries or by later ages and other viewpoints. However, there is an embarrass of riches in contexts, in contradicting evidences with respect to contemporary art.
Again let me quote Mikl¢s Erdāly. His main thesis, based on the above two, is that there is no meaning in art - an art work is characterized by the fact that it extinguishes all meaning and creates emptiness or some empty place in the viewer. If we - as historians - must, by force of evidence, grant priority to this source of interpretation, we either have to give up other sources or contexts - movements, regions, other persons - and finally meaning altogether, or have to regard his provoking utterance as part of the artist's work. In the latter case we have to dispense with our historical methods - all we may rely on is non-historical: esthetic intuitions or, preferably, notions, hermeneutics, semiotics, cultural anthropology, sociology, philosophy, etc. Again we need esthetics or some other system of interpretation which, at the same time, cannot be a rigid method fixed once and for all and revealed ex cathedra.
What I propose is a moral choice: not institutionalized channels but intellectual efforts, not the judgement of history (of the historian) but the judgement of a connoisseur should define what is good art and what is not, and why. Therefore, debates and arguments are needed. I think, by the way, that is the main message of Erdāly's provocation: creative thinking is always beyond professional routines. However, I think, history is no argument, neither are obscure hints at topical subjects (postmodernism, technical civilization, etc.) nor the echoing of handy platitudes (mass culture kills creativity, light can be opposed to darkness, time is a deep philosophical problem, and the like). A paradoxical task: to build esthetic systems in each piece of criticism and not to build on dogmas. A positive notion of relevance and of innovation is needed. Such a positive notion cannot be grounded in history, only in the expectations and the sensitiveness of a contemporary.
"God Almighty first planted a garden, and, indeed, it is the purest of human pleasures. It is the greatest refreshment of the spirits of man, without which buildings and palaces are but gross handiworks; and a man shall ever see that when ages grow to civility and elegancy, men come to build stately sooner that to garden finely, as if gardening were the greatest perfection." (Bacon: Essays Civil and Moral, Cassell and Company, 1909, p. 145.) - these are the introductory remarks of Francis Bacon's essay on the ideal garden, the environment that recreates the ver perpetuum, the eternal spring for man.
The garden is nature perfected, "eternal spring", a small world in which, according to Moses Mendelssohn, everything beautiful and useful, everything what is for Man, should be presented and everything should be concealed what is much too natural, what ought not to be seen. Therefore in garden history we can also trace that strange and ambivalent relation of man to nature, the duality of longing and resentment.
The subject of this little essay is the ideal garden, the garden which served as a paradigm for interpreting, judging and enjoying gardens and which shaped one of our concepts of nature, that of nature lived and enlivened. The spatial structures created in and through garden-history are lingering on in our responses to nature-as-a-landscape: as the land opened up before our eyes stretching into infinity, that is, as prospect, and as the intimacy of the nature of strolls and picnics.
All European theories of gardening retained their dual roots: that gardens are pictures and renewals of Eden (or of Elysium, according to the taste of another time) and that Eden is the par excellence place of human pleasure, and, on the other hand, that the garden is nature tamed, interpreted, humanized. This duality means that man reshapes nature, "beautifies" it, so that, in turn, she can reshape man, recreate - in both the original and the derivative sense of the word - in him everything he has lost or used up, or what simply has no place in the whirlpool of the world as opposed to the garden as Arcadia. The history of gardens, at least the history of the ideal garden, is therefore also the history of human attention turned inside. The "civilized and elegant" attention reforms nature in order to be able to reform itself, to get a paradisiac version of man - pleasure, amusing surprises, greatness, elevated ideas, God. The ideal garden flourishes, reserves its relatedness to Eden, its symbolic language and meaning only until this attention that is able to read the garden step by step, view by view is lively, until the pleasures of garden are embedded in an daily experiences and the pensive attention can be a style of life. And it can flourish, on the other hand, only until the domestication of nature in a garden seemed possible, until a garden did not seemed too small or even petty to picture the beautiful nature, and until nature was regarded as something that can and should be beautified and moralized.
Most claims and Eden-ideas set up for and against gardens were formulated during the two centuries that regarded nature as a "book", in the 17. and 18. century. It is in these centuries that garden becomes a concept that embraces everything important on earth. D. Meyer, the gardener of Erlang, who is not much important in other respects, in 1708 wrote an eulogy on the garden of Erlang. (Harangue Du Delicieux Jardin De la Novelle Ville De Chrisitan-Erlang) - we can start with it.
"O Paradis terrestres! O lieu de Delices! O Jardin tapissā des plus rares, & des plus incomparables Peintures, tu es l'Endroit ou la Nature en belle humeur demeure; tu renferme de quoi ocuper les plus grandes, & les plus Nobles Genies; Les Esprits transcendants trouvent en toi le Chemin de Ciel, des Regles de la plus sure Regence, les Preceptes d'une plus fine Politique, tu montre la vertu des Planetes, & et des Etoiles, l'Usage de la Geometrie, & aux Medecins les moiens de conserver la Sante & de la redouer ceux qui l'ont perdue" (Eva B"rsch-Supan, p. 10.)
The first decade of the eighteenth century, when Meyer so enthusiastically summarized the virtues of the so-called " French garden", saw the garden literature revolt. Two theories of ideal garden fight for priority, the theory of "French" garden which regards the natural elements of a garden as construction material and squeezes them into a nice geometrical arrangement and that of the "English" garden which softly converts "free and innocent" nature into art. In England Shaftesbury, Addison and Pope campaign against - with the famous words of Shatesbury - the "formal mockery of princely gardens", the liberticide and phantasicide use of nature, on the other side of the barricade Dāzallier d'Argenville publishes - though without his name - his garden theory updating the experiences of Versaille which was read throughout in Europe as a handbook of gardening.
The ambitious symbols, however, with which Meyer equipped his garden, lead us back to the gardens of an earlier, more overtly symbolic thinking. In this rather eclectic mixture of meanings almost all the old European traditions of garden-interpretation rise to the surface. We can follow his hints to trace the main cultural meanings of a garden.
Behind the "Paradis terrestre" and the "Lieu de Delices" there is the garden of delights, the medieval hortus deliciarium and hortus conclusus which was sublimated into a symbol of Mary and the Church, a spiritual caress, the locus amoenus which became a "pleasure garden" in an "educated" age when lust was not so dangerous and unruly that it should have been covered with refined allegories. The garden of love.
"Your two cheeks are an orchard of pomegranates,
an orchard full of rare fruits:
spikenard and saffron, sweet-cane and cinnamon
with every incense-bearing tree,
myrrh and aloes
with all the choisest spices.
My sister, my bride, is a garden closed-locked,
a garden close-locked, a fountain sealed.
The fountain in my garden is a spring of running water
pouring down from Lebanon.
Awake, north wind, and come, south wind;
blow my garden that its perfumes may pour forth,
that my beloved my come to his garden
and enjoy its rare fruits."
(Song of Songs, 4,12-16.)
Later Guillaume de Lorris tells us in his Roman de la Rose how the knight rambling around in spring comes to the garden of Dāduit (Pleasure), to the enclosed garden the walls of which are decorated with the images of those who cannot get in: Hatred, Treachery, Villainy, Covetousness, Avarice, Envy, Sadness, Old Age, Time, Hypocrisy and Poverty. Pleasure is dancing inside with her companions, Beauty, Wealth, Generosity, Courtesy and Youth are among them. The knight joins the dance, then walks away, to a fountain in which Narcissus had glimpsed his shadow and died. As he leans over the water he miraculously sees the whole garden reflected in the two crystal stones at the bottom, he sees the garden of roses and that particular rose. The arrow of love pierces his heart. The story begins.
The garden is locus amoenus, a place where one must love - that's one of the traditional lines. According to the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii, another important source of the medieval symbolic garden, the centre of the garden is the Temple of Venus where the wandering Poliphilus can get only through the gardens of Queen Eleuterilyda, the labyrinth of the seven circles of water symbolizing the seven ages of man, and the yard of the hundered brick arches covered with ivory, decorated with prophyr altars, sphynxes and perfect geometrical figures, then through pathes bordered by cypresses and the yard of the three Graces with its arches shaped of lemon and orange trees, and through a glass and silk parterre, and an arbour of most beautiful artifical roses, so that he can, surrounded by groves and orchards, ritually consummate his love with Polia. (Description of the ideal garden and engravings in Woodbridge, p. 23) Colonna wrote this work around 1464 - it's an architectonic paradise, with a pseudo-ancient imagery and elements of the princely garden boasting with all sorts of playful marvel. But I only cite it as another example of the locus amoenus tradition which reappears in one element of gardens of all times: in the place of intimacy, of the "grove" or "bosquet". It was said at the time that Fouquet, whose garden in Vaux-le-Vicomte had glorified Le Notre, on secret stairs glided down in his garden's enclosed corner to amuse himself with his nymphs, and the love affairs of sentimentalism were also pursued in hidden shadowy groves - Julie of Rousseau went to the bosquets, the "asylum", to give herself to his beloved Saint-Preux, to the garden, which from then on bears all the burdens of this love and bad conscience, as opposed to the artificial wilderness that Julie creates as Wolmar's wife. We can also remember the almost didactic garden of the Wahlverwandschaften. Even at the end of the century, Gabriele Baumberg, once to be the wife of the Hungarian poet, Bats nyi, makes Love the queen of the Neuwaldegg garden of Marechal Lacy:
"Die Grazien schrieben dann an jede Felsenwand
Mit Rosenalphabet: in diesen stillen GrĀnden
Herrscht Liebe unsichtbar; wer ihren Werth verkennt,
Und ihrer Macht getrotzt, der wird sie hier empfinden."
Another great tradition of the Meyer-text is the garden as a picture of power. An iconography of gardens, strictly understood, emerges only when power wants to make itself manifest in its garden, when the garden becomes the picture of the conquered and tamed world. Versailles, as Saint-Simon put it bitterly, was the tyranny of Louis over nature. Versailles is a garden centred around Louis XIV, he surveyed the works, he determined the point de vue, the view-point, at the Latona fountain, from which all the marvellous water-works of the garden could be seen, and also the schedule of walks according to which the visitors should have been guided through the bosquets of the garden. He is present everywhere in his garden - as statues of Apollo. Here he gathered and watched over his dangerously rich and noble subjects.
But before enumerating earlier examples of powerly gardens, it should be mentioned that geometry and tyranny are not necessarily connected in garden history. The former is a question of visual meaning, the latter that of meaning presented or represented. Perhaps Versailles was and still is much too famous an example of princely representation, such a perfect garden, that critics of the French garden could very easily connect tyranny and view-centred geometric arrangement. At the end of the 18. century, when garden is a symbol of liberty and, of course, national liberty, J.J. Atzel wrote the following in his article "Ideal eines teutschen Gartens": "Unsere l. Nachbarn, die Franzosen gaben die Tone an, verstĀmmelten die Natur Gottes und belegten sie mit sclavischen Fesseln..." (Gerndt, p.106.), and Schiller was of the same opinion. However, the history of this kind of arrangement started well before French absolutism. As Sir Thomas Browne wrote in The Garden of Cyrus:"Since even in Paradise itself the tree of knowledge was placed in the middle of the Garden, whatever was the ambient figure, there wanted not a centre and rule of decussation". (quoted in Comito)
French gardens and their predecessors, the Italian villa-gardens offer two kinds of space: a visible one which lies around the villa or the castle, mostly situated on some hill according to the gardening principles of the Renaissance and looks on the pretty pattern of parterres, pools and walks and another kind of space, a sheltering and protecting one, of arbours and groves created along or at the end of walks, of the bosquets of the French garden enclosed by topiary works or shrubs. The first kind perhaps could be regarded as the picture of a symbolic universe, arranged geometrically and symmetrically, the pictures of squareish flower beds surrounded by walks, a picture of an axis stretching from the human word above to the word of nature below, from the villa to the grotto or fountain that concludes the main walk of the garden, pictures of water-works, pools and the garden reflected in them, the picture of the parterre which consist of geometric flower beds and evergreen shrubs, looking like an embroidered carpet stretching towards a more natural nature, to the groves and arbours enclosed by topiary works. There begins the other kind of space, the sheltering and protecting one, a home-made Arcadia, the place for games, theater performances and country delights.
That's what Alberti recommends in his De re aedificatoria: a garden is, on the one hand, architecture, "numerus, finitio, collocatio", that is, number, proportion, arrangement. But on the other hand it is a place for recreation and delight with fountains and springs gushing up suddenly, with grottos, shady groves and even remnants of ancient buildings. Although Alberti's description is surprisingly close to the gardening principles of the picturesque movement, I am concerned here only with the two types of perceptions he suggests: looking at and moving in the garden.
Dāzallier d'Argenville also empasizes the importance of bosquets, as if against prospects, the bosquet being a component of a garden just as important as the view of the garden alluding to an infinite and orderly nature. The bosquet is an asylum for social life, all sorts of curiosities and fancies. Each bosquet has its own decoration and its own character. In the French garden this is variety in uniformity - the locus amoenus and a disciplined nature are both essential elements of it. So the criticism directed against the "formal mockery" has its roots elswhere, neither in some lack of taste for geometry, nor in a resolute rejection of powerly representation, but in a reformed picture of nature. It was, to a great extent at least, early German nationalism that replaced the Shaftesburyan picture of godlike nature with the concept of nature as freedom.
Charles Joseph de Ligne who was equally familiar with the "gardens of Le Notre" and that of Kent, at the end of the century refused to decide between French and English garden - not as an alternative of tyranny and free nature, but as an alternative of two attitudes, sight and meditation, the psychology of the French garden centred around spectacles and pleasures and that of the English garden, with its stimuli to excite the imagination.
"Il m'est permis plus qu' un autre de dire:
Je ne dācide point entre Kent el le Notre. Et pour prouver, que mon esprit n'est d'aucun parti, quoi-que mon coeur soit pour l'irregulier, j'avouerai, que les ātrangās qui viennent Beloil, sont frappā du genre francois, et ont de la peine quitter l'admiration du superbe developpement des ouvrages de mon pere, pour aller rever dans les miens, parce que le plus qu'on ne force point les gens penser; et que le plus grand nombre aime mieux regarder que sentir." (quoted in Haj¢s, p. 67.) This distinction between "regarder" and "penser" would lead us to the main principles of the early English garden (which is "sentimental", rather than "picturesque"). Now I would like to return to the iconography of power.
Not much can be known about the actual medieval secular gardens. Perhaps in the early 14. century, in the famous garden of Robert d'Artois there were also emblems parading his power beside all sorts of naughty water-shoot and snapping automatons.
But at least from the 16. century on it became an indispensable feature, a quite overt message of princely gardens: the creation shows the grandeur of the creator, the building the grandeur of the person who had it built. Henry VIII almost manically planted his poles carrying his heraldic animals all over the little garden of Hampton Court obtained with so much difficulty and fraud. Catherine de Medici organizes a showy reception for Francis II. and Mary Stuart in Chenonceux, with ivory-covered triumphal arch and other necessary props in the garden and goes to great pains to leave a sign of her princely presence that turned the wilderness into garden (and his son into king): deep in the garden, beyond "green rooms" and "green oratories" stands and oak with an inscription addressed to the princess: "Whither do you hasten princess? Pause! (...) Before my Pallas, the mother of your king (may the great gods see her love continues), took pleasure in this place, there was no living flower: but a wilderness of bushes was what I saw. " (quoted in Woodbridge, p. 82)
In Vaux-le-Vicomte the axis ends in a hill with a fountain and the statue of Hercules. Here again we find that the attention is directed - as I suppose in any work of art - the castle and its image reflected in the pool around it we see from the "point of view" of Hercules. Hercules, the symbol of noble power and principal virtues, was perhaps far too noble a symbol for a bourgeois minister like Fouquet. Fouquet's fall was partly due to his garden - Louis could not stand the luxury of others.
And finally, parallel with the conception of Meyer's text, the two Belvederes of prince Eugen were erected near Vienna, equipped with two gardens, a menagerie, a hierarchical space. The garden of the lower palace is that of fertile nature, Priapus and Pomona dwell there, while the upper palace is a picture of power and grandeur, a picture of Olymp interpreted by statues of Apollo, Hercules and Dionysios. The lower garden is the nature "below", the upper garden is a disciplined "above" of art and power.
The text of Meyer shows us another, a third way as well. It is the "Chemin de Ciel", the wandering pathes of the meditative minds of "les plus Nobles Genies" and "Les Esprits transcendants". Nature is not only refreshing spring, the place for easy delights. In European physico-theological thinking pleasure is only a sign of and reference to a higher harmony which cannot be perceived but as something created - by God - which constitutes a benchmark and also a task for anyone who faces it. It is enough to feel and see, unreflected, delight and power in the garden, the order of things and the duties of man, however, should be contemplated. We should be open to signs that may refer to these and should interpret them by meditating them. That is the difference between "regarder" and "penser" formulated as a matter of choice by de Ligne. I would like to illuminate this by quoting some texts on this "garden of meditation" written prior to de Ligne's reflections.
"I speake not heer of the Covent-Garden, the garden of the Temple, nor that of the Charter-House, or of Grayes-Inne Walkes, to be had and enjoyed at home; nor of the Garden of Padua, or of Montpellier, so illustrious for simples. I speake not of the Garden of Hesperides, where grew the golden apples, nor yet of the Tempe, or the Elizian fields. I speake not of Eden, the Earthlie Paradise, nor of the Garden of Gethsemany, watered with Blood flowing from our Saviour's precious body: But I speake of thee, that Garden so known by the name of HORTUS CONCLUSUS; wherein are al things mysteriously and spiritually to be found, which even beautifies the fairest gardens; being a place...wherein is no season to be seen, but a perpetual Spring...where are Arbours to shadow...from the heats of concupiscence; flowery beds to repose in, with heavenly contemplations, Mounts to ascend to, with the study of Perfections; where are...the flowers of all vertues."
(Henry Hawkins, Parthaneia Sacra, quoted in Hunt, p 12.)
In the garden created by God "Heavens, the Earth, nay every Creatures...are Hierogliphicks and Emblems of his Glory" because nature is a "Universall and publick Manuscript" - as The Garden of Cyrus of Sir Thomas Browne tells us. (this passage is quoted in Hunt, p.13) That is, God has left his emblems and signs everywhere in his creation - just as princes have done in their princely gardens, and these signs should be explored and meditated by the lonely spectator.
The attitude of meditative withdrawal can be traced back to Horace or Pliny who, if wanted to work quietly, retired into their country estates, Pliny to some of his villas the gardens of which he immortalized in such sensual letters - and Pope or other partizans of the "amiable simplicity" did indeed invoke them. But there is also a peculiar element in the modern European withdrawal and that's the ambition to edify the soul - man withdraws himself from his fellow-men for his soul to be able to give itself to the signs undisturbedly. I don't know where this traditions begins in its new, secular form, after ancient sages and Christian hermits - perhaps it was Petrarch again, as with so many innovations -
"Locus est alta sub rupe ac mediis in undis, augustus quidem sed plenus stimulis ardentibus, quibus priger licet animus in altissimas curas possit assurgere." (Petrarch: Epistoles familiares, 11.12.10, quoted in Comito) - That's how he described Vaucluse, his "transalpine Helicon" in one his letters.
Meditation is time dedicated to the soul and God alone, an intensive attention that leads deeper and deeper on the same path, therefore it requires loneliness. A garden is a sort of stage set that substitutes for an original wilderness where the world created by man cannot interfere in the conversation between the soul and the creation.
"We are to be found truly no where but in our selves, everywhere else we meet but with our fantasme or our shadow. And therefore many have reason to say, that Meditation is harder than Extasie, as it is easier to go out of our selves, than to re-enter into them, without the use of this noble thoughtfulness, to which the temper of Melancholy is disposed." (Walter Montague, quoted in Hunt, p. 57.)
The shady, secret grove therefore can be interpreted in a twofold way: as a locus amoenus, a place for love, in the sign of "delight", but also as an hermitage, in the sign of "meditation". It has to do with the "genius of the place" which also re-appears in the terminology of the English Garden, though not with such a naive charm as Girolamo Fracastoro in his novel "Naugerius" (1555), according to which whether one becomes a poet or a philosopher in a grove of a loces amoenus, depends on how the impulses are produced that influence our minds : "This very air..that we breath must be inhabited by diverse spirits, which dwell especially in these solitudes, woods and fountains, where the poets say the gods themselves are present. These spirits go in and out of our bodies, and different ones affect us in different ways." (quoted in and translated by Comito, p 53.)
The garden of meditation of the 17. century - which is of course, a purely ideal kind of garden, as it existed mainly in the minds of philosophers and writers - exhibits almost all characteristics of the "sentimental" English garden the main feature of which, besides preferring a free and natural nature, was its ambition to excite the imagination of the spectator by offering subjects for a noble kind of association, to lead it through the impressions of urns, inscriptions, temples or monuments to elevated thoughts. Hirschfeld, an apostle of the German sentimental garden in the middle of the 18. century, even called these monuments carefully spreaded all over the garden a "Schule der Weisheit".
That both the ambition and the means were present already in the garden theories of the 17. century, a letter of John Evelyn to Thomes Browne, from 1657, clearly indicates:
"...our draft is a noble, princely, and universal Elysium, capable of all the amenities that can naturally be introduced into gardens of pleasures. We will endevour to show how the air and genius of gardens operate upon human spirits towards virtue and sanctity, I mean in a remote, preparatory and instrumental working. How caves, grots, mounts, and irregular ornaments of gardens do contribute to contemplative and philosophical enthusiasm; how elysium, antrum, nemus, paradysus, hortus, lucus, etc, signify all of them rem sanctam et divinam; for these expedients do influence the soul and spirits of man, and prepare them for converse with good angels; besides which, they contribute to the less abstracted pleasures...and I would have...a society of the paradisi cultores, persons of ancient simplicity, Paradisean and Hortulan saints." (quoted in Hunt, p. 28.)
The English garden is, however, not only a secular heir but also a parody of the garden of meditation. Its artificial sign-language, didactic and sometimes manipulative technique easily turns signs into props. There is hardly any elegant garden in the 18. century without an hermitage to remind the visitor of the noble act of meditation. But even a carefully chosen substitute hermit can prove to be unreliable and the hermits of the hermitages made a lot of trouble, some of them ran away, some could not resist the temptation of carnal pleasures, some betrayed his master. Count Sporck, the owner of the famous Betlehem of Kuks, finally commissioned Matthias Braun to replace the former recluses with new ones made of stone. This kind of substitution constitutes a decisive step towards the transformation of signs into props (even though the statues of Matthias Braun entered art history as great works of art): it seems that meditation can be replaced with the pious pleasure of seeing it represented
Now we can try to sum up the main features of sentimental garden, as the fourth, a modern and secular kind of the ideal garden that can be interpreted (and with the sentimental garden, even translated) as a system of signs. The partisans of English garden championed for a free nature and free imagination and quoted the ancients and Milton with his Paradise. Freedom of nature was mainly meant as a negative freedom, they (especially Pope) ridiculed and condemned topiary, the habit of trimming trees and shrubs, abolished the outdated embroidered parterre and most of them disapproved straight walks and rigid symmetry (although the outlawing of geometry was a widely discussed issue among landscape-gardeners - that again shows that a sentimental garden is not the question of geometry or irregularity). The serpentine line first appeared in English theories but it was moralized by Germans: Schiller, in his very important contribution to the issue, said that nature abhorrs abrupt changes and straight lines can be created only by human intervention, by assaulting nature - he also compared the free development of plants to that of human beings (in Kallias oder Āber die Sch"nheit, quoted in Gerndt, p 24.). But the concept of free nature and of naturalness should not be taken too seriously. All theorists were convinced that it is necessary to display nature in her best. As Reynolds declared, in the debate about the Chinese phantasies of Chambers that were condemned as not natural, there is hardly any purely natural garden. The garden is nature "beautified", interpreted by the "dignity and duty of man", by the "Reinmenschliches" or the "national character" - according to different writers. Nature should be illuminated by the mind to bestows meaning upon it. The question was rather what sort of meaning nature should have and how she can have it.
In the 18.century, when a garden is somehow the counterpart of poetry, century innumerable aphorisms were born on gardens. "My garden is like my life" - it's one of Pope's aphorisms and it is a very enlightening one, in some sense it reveals more about the principles of English garden than the treatises of Whately, Hirschfeld, Repton or Girardin. The garden is not a place any more, its a process of experiencing and understanding. It is allied not to architecture but to poetry. De Lille said, with some nostalgia for Le Notre and works of the bygone grandeur, that "the old garden was the garden of the architect, the new one is that of the philosopher, the painter and the poet." (quoted in Gothein, p 391.).
We cannot fall back on Meyer any more. Although his "Peintures" could be taken as a picturesque interpretation avant la lettre which has its followers at the end of the 18. century in Gilpin, Price and Knight who propagated wild romantic landscapes to be built in gardens. Nevertheless, the "Peintures" of Meyer refer exactly to those spectacularly arranged flower-beds and walks that the picturesque movement wanted to replace with intact, natural and irregular beauty. And in some sense they misunderstood the sentimental English garden, even though in a fruitful way that lead to the appreciation of purely visual features - of nature, of gardens and perhaps even of paintings, to a painterly impressionism. And they had an alternative to offer in place of the fashionable sentimentalism of messy and overcrowded egzotic gardens which their alert contemporaries, Goethe, Tieck, M"ser and the others, mocked with such delight.
The role ruins play in the respective theories illustrates the point more than sufficiently. In a picturesque garden a ruinous building produces that kind of enjoyable effect which, according to Knight for instance, is essential to a picturesque view: interesting irregularity. That is, a fanciful rock or a strange tree would also make it. On the other hand, for Lord Kames in the middle of the century it was a symbol. He preferred ruins built (!) in the gothic taste to greek ones, because the former visualizes the triumph of time over barbarism, whereas a greek ruin indicates the triumph of barbarism over taste which is a much less preferable idea.
In the sentimental garden nature is improved by inscriptions, as Watelet, the French populizer of English garden specified, the inscriptions relate to the natural elements in the same way as words to melody in music. "Content" can be anything that reminds man of his duty or destiny. William Kent, the great founding father of landscape garden, built for Lord Cobham an exemplary garden in Stowe - cited, imitated and debated everywhere as an epitome of English garden - which was clearly designed to be a national-liberal whig ideal garden, populated by hundreds of temples, among others the Temple of British Worthies, an important link in the tradition of the Pantheon-idea, the Victoria and Concordia Temples, the Temple of Ancient Virtue set against the ruinous Temple of Modern Virtue somewhat didactically. Although national ideals expressed by monuments dedicated to national geniuses were an almost obligatory topic in sentimental gardens, especially in Germany, there were gardens with more universalistic ideas as well. In Seifersdorf a "Tempel der Wohltatigkeit" was erected, and another dedicated to "Andenken guten Menschen". And finally in the back of the garden stood an altar of Truth and a tree the bore the inscription: "G"ttliche Pflanze! Du vertreibst den Wahn der Meinungen, reinigst das Herz von Leidenschaft." (Quoted in Gerndt, p.33.)
The English garden even formally can be regarded as a "translation" of human mind, an equivalent of the great educational novels: formally it is designed to disclose unforeseenable "futures" in its zigzagging walks where the visitor rambles to come to a place which has its genius and has its lesson in the form of an urn, a statue, a tomb, an obelisk or a bench with its edifying inscription - always with reference to the presence of a "reinmenschlicher" man, without which, as Hirschfeld warned his readers, no garden is conceivable. The sentimental garden requires a reader, not only a visitor and a viewer, because, as William Shenstone, a liebling poet-gardener of the landscapists wrote in his Unconnected Thoughts on Gardening, "all objects should indeed be less calculated to strike the immediate eye, than the judgement or well-formed imagination; as in painting". (quoted in Clark, p. 185.) A well-formed imagination means a pre-formed imagination. Even in the case of well preserved English gardens there is much more to see in contemporary engravings than in reality: everything is there that gets the monument standing in an apparent confusion of trees speak. In Darnstedt's engravings of the famous Seifersdorf garden all signs are encircled by trees forming a chapel-like structure and the walk leading to it stops at an ideal meditative distance to allow some space for the eye. It's again an old representational tradition - that of the ideal and "tuned" landscape, which also served as a model for garden, the tradition of Poussin, Claude Lorrain and Salvator Rose, in which, as Goethe said of the much admired Lorrain, "die h"chste Warheit aber keine Wahrscheinlichkeit" can be found. But he himself also could appreciate this kind of "Wahrheit".
"In meinem Thal wird's immer sch"ner, das heisst es wird mir naher und Andern und mir geniessbarer, da ich die vernachtlassigten Platzen alle mit Handen der Liebe polstre und putzte, und jederzeit mit gr"sstes Sorgfalt die Fugen der Kunst der lieben immer bindenden Natur zu befestigen und decken Ābergebe." - Goethe wrote in his letter to Merck in 1778 - "Das herzige Spielwerk ist ein Kahn, auf dem ich oft Āber flache Gegenden meines Zustandes wegschwimme. Im Innersten aber geht alles nach Wunsch. Das Element, in dem ich schwebe, hat alle Ahnlichkeit mit dem Wasser, es zieht jeden an und doch versagt dem, der auch nur an die Brust hereinspringt, im Anfange der Athem, muss er nun gar gleich tauchen, so verschwinden ihm Himmel und Erde." (in: Goethes Briefe, Band 3, p. 237., Weimar, Hermann B"hlau, 1888.)
It's almost impossible to tell whether the mind is a metaphor of the garden here, or the garden is that of the mind.
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First published as a contribution to the "artificial worlds" section of Nappali ház, 1991/1-2.