Roberto Burle Marx’s path to becoming one of the most celebrated landscape architects of the 20th century was about as direct as his sinuous garden designs. Raised in Rio de Janeiro, he moved to Berlin to study painting and found inspiration in the city’s Dahlem Botanical Garden. When he returned to Rio to continue his education, he still considered himself a painter but began to experiment with a new medium: native plants. His work was noticed by architect and urban planner Lúcio Costa, who asked Burle Marx to design a garden. The painter-turned-landscape architect became dedicated to expanding his horticultural palette, and commissions from other architects, including Oscar Niemeyer, followed.
Burle Marx developed a joyful style defined by large groupings of plants employed like swaths of color on a canvas. His gardens were structured around around bold architectural forms and features, and bolder plants like the explosively colorful bromeliad and the sculptural leaves of the elephant’s ear. Favoring neither common nor exotic plants, Burle Marx was instead fascinated by the effects of plants. He collected, studied, and propagated native Brazilian species—dozens that he discovered bear his name—and he became a passionate environmentalist and advocate for the conservation of the rainforest and the native landscape.
The exhibition will feature a garden designed by landscape architect and Burle Marx–protege Raymond Jungles in the spirit of Burle Marx’s work, as well as a gallery of the landscape architect’s original paintings, prints, drawings, and textiles. “From children’s playgrounds, to art, to sculptural vine trellises, to murals, to incredible gardens, you [can] see his passion in everything that he did,” said Jungles. “He was always creating; that’s what gave him joy.”
The Living Art of Roberto Burle Marx opens June 8 at the New York Botanical Garden and will be on view until September 29.