The two journeymen have a heavy burden to carry with their shouldered luggage from days gone by. Nevertheless, they trudge forward in worn-out shoes, a pipe in the corner of their mouth: the cast bronze shaggy-haired bear “Orso” and his wolfish sidekick “Lupo” look like they’ve stepped out of a great-grandmother’s fairy tale book.
Anna Gritz placed the sculpture duo by the Berlin artist Peter Wächtler on the left and right of the outside staircase to the freshly renovated garden. This latest addition to the sculpture park of the Haus am Waldsee sets a scent mark, with enigmatic narrative potential, alternating between melancholy and cheerfulness. Visiting children will love the shaggy guys from the imagined animal kingdom. So to new times!
Only recently did Anna Gritz, who took over the management of the oldest Berlin exhibition house for contemporary art in June and previously worked as a curator at the Berlin KW Institute for Contemporary Art for six years, reopened the listed park. It still looks too perfect and licked here. But that might change soon. Garden art is change, naturally.
The audience was locked out for six months until the overseeded blades of grass were strong enough. Now the meadow green shines like a picture book. An English-style landscaped garden spreads out at the foot of the manufacturer’s villa, built in 1922, over 10,000 square meters up to the lake shore. After the house was thoroughly renovated a few years ago, it was now the turn of the garden, also financed from lottery funds.
Archive research and exploratory excavations on the property brought little reliable information to light about the original design, such as the route, as the Berlin landscape architect Georg v. Gayl tells with the architecture office of the same name. It is clear that even back in the 1920s, this villa garden was hopelessly old-fashioned, just like the sedentary country house. There is no trace of modern building, as was introduced here in the south-west a short time later with the nearby Onkel Toms Hütte settlement by Bruno Taut, tailored to smaller budgets.
This extensive villa garden has other qualities. Invitingly, the terrain slopes gently down to the lake, irresistible for a stroll. The line of sight from the café terrace in front of the rebuilt side wing, which previously housed the garage, is once again exposed. In general, according to Geyl, a lot of wild growth was removed. But which way to go? Straight down to the shore, across the meadow? It would be allowed. But on the right, a curved path lures you through the shady grove, which didn’t exist before. The huge oaks, pines and maples are over a hundred years old.
Expanding the enormous variety of plant species in the context of monument-appropriate restoration was also important in terms of biodiversity and resilience to drought stress. 8,000 wild perennials, such as ferns and cranesbills, were planted in the ground just near the shady shore. Little of this can be seen yet. Closer to the house, borders add pops of color with pink phlox, white bluebells and yellow daylilies; here the flowers are in full bloom from spring to autumn.
The highlight, however, is the discreetly integrated open-air stage. You only discover that they exist again when you look back from the lake shore. Four semi-circular grassy banks nestle into the slope. These terrain steps are completely invisible from the house: a garden design sleight of hand.
Since 1945, theater has been performed and concerts performed here in the garden of the exhibition hall. And that’s exactly where Anna Gritz wants to start again. The term sculpture park does not go far enough for her, as she emphasizes during the garden walk. All forms of art, including performative ones, should be given space here for brainstorming, development, development. She also wants to give very young artists the opportunity for large-scale work.
Right at the opening ceremony, Gritz invited the American writer Kirsty Bell to explore the garden in writing and to enter into long-term processual exchanges with it. Perhaps even plants from their texts could find their way into the real garden?
Gritz wants to be open to many things. She rubs up against the classic beauty of her listed idyll. In fact, such a “natural” English landscape park with its curved paths and asymmetrical groups of trees is a completely artificial construct: this form of garden design developed from the ideal images of landscape painting in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even the secluded “Waldsee” was once artificially created to drain the swampy terrain.
The current restoration takes artificiality to the next level. However, invisible. A full-surface irrigation system is hidden under the turf, which supplies the lawn roots directly with moisture. Lots of invisible cables were laid everywhere to provide the necessary voltage for spotlights or other event equipment. WiFi is also provided. A high-tech garden in the guise of perfect naturalness.
For Anna Gritz it is above all a playground for curatorial ideas. She wants to think of the house more in terms of the garden, turning the ephemeral into a principle. The gleaming steel sculpture “Summer House” by the architect duo Barkow Leibinger, which has been a favorite spot in the garden for many visitors since its 2010 retrospective, will disappear at the end of the year. Will anything else remain, such as Francis Zeischegg’s “Hunting Protection Wood Stack” hidden in the undergrowth?
We will see. Starting in September, Anne Gritz will be dedicating her first exhibition to Leila Hekmat, who was born in Los Angeles in 1981. “She’s actually a performance artist,” says Gritz. Last year, Hekmat’s overexcited stage staff could be seen in a video installation in the exhibition “A fire in my belly” in the Julia Stoschek Collection.
She wants to turn the house on the Waldsee into a sanatorium for women run by nuns with panopticon-like treatment rooms. There should also be individual stations in the garden. Art can be healing. Or poke.