Ian Hamilton Finlay, a conceptual artist and gardener best known for Little Sparta, the garden he made with his wife near Edinburgh, Scotland, was the focus of this lecture by Penn Professor Emeritus of Landscape Architecture John Dixon Hunt, presented in conjunction with AVANT-GARDEner: Ian Hamilton Finlay (part of ICA@50). This formal, energetic, erudite yet personal talk took on Finlay’s garden creations as modes of attack on contemporary values (or lack of them), simultaneously providing an overview of Finlay’s work and offering up personal stories and connections. With words and pictures, Hunt took the listener through the gates of Little Sparta, explaining how the garden developed from a small croft to an extensive and minutely conceived work of art complete with inscriptions on rocks, sculptures made in collaboration with other artists and artisans, and a small lake where Finlay boated daily. The major theme of the lecture—that for Finlay, who grew up as Fascism was on the rise, Arcadia was not a place of retreat but rather a place where the world could be remolded—was highlighted through double entendres both verbal and visual (pineapple finials that could be read as grenades, for instance). Penn’s Kislak Center Special Collections Curator Lynne Farrington, who, together with ICA’s Alex Klein, organized AVANT-GARDEner, was on hand, as was David Diao, whose presentation of color field painting was also on view in the galleries. After the talk, visitors—artists, gardeners, librarians, and others—took in the ephemera from Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press which was on display along with a Sussex trug and other gardening implements.
Gardening with Words: Ian Hamilton FinlayBetween Object and Environment: Sculpture in an Extended FormatICA@50: Pleasing Artists And Publics Since 1963AVANT-GARDEner: Ian Hamilton Finlay / Between Object and Environment: Sculpture in an Extended Format (1969)ICA@50