Wave Hill Gardens: A Landscape of Art in the Bronx

Celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year, Wave Hill may be one of the best-kept secrets among New York City’s thirty-three cultural institutions. It’s a stunning estate garden and cultural center overlooking the Hudson River and Palisades, located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

The former home of financier George Perkins and his family, the 28-acre property features lavish rolling lawns and river vistas, sunset concerts, numerous artistically-designed gardens and woodlands to explore, plus two mansions with unique gallery spaces, as well as immersive outdoor art installations.

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The Wave Hill estate includes an aquatic garden, an elliptical garden, a flower garden, and herb and dry garden, a conservatory, a paisley bed, a pergola (shown above), and much, much more. A wild hillside garden at Wave Hill offers spectacular river views amongst selected wild species from around the world, which combine to achieve a “planted-by-nature” effect. The flower garden, meanwhile, hosts perennials, annuals, and an ever-changing assortment of container plants that add additional color and texture to the landscape.

The history of the estate is almost as amazing as its gorgeous gardens and artwork: According to an article in the New York Times, Wave Hill House, a stately field stone mansion originally built in 1843, has been a vacation home to many prominent New Yorkers, including 12-year-old Teddy Roosevelt– whose family rented the house in the summer– and Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who used to hold tea parties in a treehouse on the lawn.

Conductor Arturo Toscanini lived there in the 1940’s, as did the head of the British delegation to the United Nations, who later entertained Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, and U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

In the 1920’s, another renter, Bashford Dean, who was then a curator of arms and armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, convinced the Perkins family to let him add a Gothic-style wing called Armor Hall in order to display his armor collection, which is now famously on display at the Met.

Dean’s remaining legacy includes a rare 15th Century bas-relief fireplace depicting the resurrection and ceiling-high, carved wooden beams that were recycled from the original construction of the Lexington Avenue subway, according to the New York Times.

Glyndor House, a second mansion located at the southern end of the estate, was re-built in 1928 in the Georgian Revival red brick style. Originally, it was the Perkins family home and has since been turned into an art gallery hosting exhibitions by contemporary, cutting-edge artists.

The current exhibit is part of a unique series by the Fairfield Westchester Museum Alliance, called “The Seven Deadly Sins.” Each museum in the alliance explores one of the deadly sins– a subject often addressed by painters and poets in Western art. Wave Hill is presenting “Wrath—Force of Nature,” a variety of artistic responses to shocking natural disasters, and an appropriate compliment (if a much more unruly muse) to the beautiful gardens on the estate.

Senior Curator Jennifer McGregor explains: “The twelve works we have on view depict a precarious world of floods, fires, and hurricanes– nature at its most fierce.” McGregor also notes that “serene gardens,” such as Wave Hill create a sort of “sanctuary” for these artists, enabling them to better express our environmental anxieties.

The works include paintings, multimedia, and monumental sculpture– all of it placed within the context of a garden estate. Artist Anne Peabody’s scorched copper leaves evoke a wildfire; David Opdyke’s 25- foot telephone pole is violently cracked in two and placed on the lawn outside the gallery entrance. Its crossbeam suggests a holy cross, but it also sprouts some bizarre growths.

Artists in the exhibition were selected because of their longstanding interest in picturing catastrophic forces. They include: Diane Burko, Brian Adam Douglas, Angela Dufresne, Julie Heffernan, Amer Kobaslija, Kent Monkman, Tameka Norris, Brian Novatny, David Opdyke, Anne Peabody, Jon Rappleye and Alexis Rockman.

The Wrath exhibition at Wave Hill is open until September 7, 2015. Other “sinful exhibits” in the metropolitan area include: “Greed,” at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, NY; “Pride,” at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, CT; “Envy,” at the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, NY; “Gluttony” at the Katonah Museum of Art in Katonah, NY; and “Sloth” at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, CT. Not all of these exhibits have gardens, however, and that’s what makes Wave Hill special– not only is the art some of the most superior and unexpected in New York, but the garden that hosts it is just as beautiful and contemplative– a work of art in itself.

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