Four Seasons Fantasy

Botanical sculptures inspired by witty Renaissance paintings adorn the lawn of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

   Artist Philip Haas is a bit of a Renaissance man. Most famous for his Academy Award-nominated movie Angels & Insects (1995), he’s also created sculptural works, multimedia art installations and documentaries on artists like David Hockney. So it’s perhaps no surprise that for his latest creative endeavor, Haas took as inspiration the witty and eccentric works of 16th-century Italian Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo.

     Arcimboldo gained fame painting whimsical portraits of Habsburg kings and members of the European courts in Vienna and Prague — their dimensional faces fashioned out of painted fruits, flowers and vegetables, as well as other symbolic objects like fish or books. Whether a witty and playful conceit, a celebration of new- and old-world botanical discoveries, or hinting at something darker (including perhaps the artist’s own  madness), Arcimboldo’s mannerist portraits have inspired countless artists from surrealist Salvador Dalí to Haas.

     The London- and New York-based Haas is a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, whose works have been exhibited at the National Gallery of Art, Kimbell Art Museum, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London) and the Gardens of Versailles. For Four Seasons, Haas translated Arcimboldo’s imaginative botanical portraits into bold, three-dimensional, 15-foot sculptures. The structures are constructed of painted fiberglass and overlaid with all manner of faux organic material: gnarly woods, vegetables, gourds, moss and flowers. The exuberant sculptures, representations of the four seasons and adorned with materials appropriate to their season, inspire laughter, enjoyment and awe.  Winter is a wrinkled old man with a face full of character rendered in gnarled and knobby wood; Spring is a jolly young fellow crowned with a head full of flowers, while Summer and Autumn represent the fecundity of those season with rich faces of vegetables, fruits and bulbous noses made out of gourds.

     What better season than spring to survey these majestic and merry forms on the sculpture lawn of The Nelson-Atkins Museum. The exhibit, which originated at the New York Botanical Garden, has traveled to several noted sites, including Atlanta Botanical Garden, before coming to Kansas City.

     Haas has long been fascinated by nature. His film Angels & Insects, based on a short novel by A. S. Byatt, draws erotic and sinister parallels between the seemingly decorous drawing rooms of one of Victorian England’s upper-class families and the ruthless laws of nature followed by the patriarch’s beloved insect and butterfly collection.

     Haas also acknowledges a similar “theatricality and operatic quality to Four Seasons that you might find in my film work” and likens his own role in creating the sculptures to that of a film director. Don’t miss his fantastical feast for the eyes during its appropriately seasonal sojourn in Kansas City.    

     Haas’ 'Four Seasons' will be on view on the south lawn April 25 through Oct. 19, 2015 as part of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art’s 25th anniversary of the Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park.  Admission is free. For more information visit

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