Plants As Architecture at Art Southampton


Art Southampton is all about the art. But the setting in which the art is displayed is a critical component of the total presentation.

This year’s show was designed for the second year by landscape architect Christopher LaGuardia. On the fair’s opening day, he shared some thoughts about his strategy for creating the perfect setting for the art on display.

Much of his work, he said, involved lighting design for both the indoor and outdoor spaces of the fair. The fair was open both during the day and at night, so lighting needs were complex.

To define the various outdoor spaces Mr. LaGuardia used plants—none of them exotic or flashy but all of them effective—as architectural elements. His design was eminently practical, simple yet inspired.

The art fair ran for four days, so the plants were a temporary installation. The scale, he explained, had to be big. Small plants would disappear against the soaring 100,000-square-foot exhibition pavilion.

To create architecture with plants, Mr. LaGuardia decided to use hay bales to create planters. The bales were arranged to form square enclosures and were filled with leaf mulch topped with a layer of pine needles. These materials retained moisture but also allowed plants to be easily watered when needed during the course of the fair, with minimal risk of runoff. The bales could also provide seating for foot-sore visitors, he explained.

The color scheme of the plant design was simple and natural—tan straw, brown pine needles, green trees, shrubs and ornamental grasses—to complement, not compete with, the art. The ground around the fair entrance was covered in a layer of fine gravel, which facilitated drainage of water during rainy weather; a decision that proved effective during the rain that fell during the opening night preview on July 25.

Separators And Backdrops

To separate the parking area from the outdoor sculpture garden, Mr. LaGuardia used several towering Great Western arborvitae, each centered in a hay bale planter. Between the sculpture garden and the fair pavilion several tall, leafy linden trees defined the boundary.

Outside the entrance to the pavilion, three huge American boxwoods, each 9-feet-high-by-9-feet wide, defined the show space. They separated the fair from busy County Road 39 and the Southampton Elks Lodge building.

Other plants in the sculpture garden paired with works of art. A broad, tall specimen bayberry (much bigger than the ones at the beach here) in a hay bale planter served as a backdrop for Mark Chatterley’s “Flying Dream.” Another piece, “Evanescence,” by Albert Paley stood in front of one of the huge boxwoods, also enclosed with hay bales.

Flanking the entrance doors were two imposing figurative works by Dietrich Klinge (represented by Galerie Terminus). Each sat in the center of a large square planter, amid a sea of pennisetum, or fountain grass. Along the outer edge of the square, a row of another type of ornamental grass, Miscanthus, separated the art space from the box office windows on the one side, and a display of Maserati automobiles on the other.

The Essence Of The Design

Mr. LaGuardia, who holds a degree in landscape architecture from the University of Georgia, has been working in the Hamptons since 1984. Originally from upstate, he came here for a summer job years ago and found his niche.

For a decade he worked for the noted architect Norman Jaffe. In 1993 he started his own firm, Water Mill-based LaGuardia Design, which is focused on high-end residential site planning and landscape design.

The essence of Mr. LaGuardia’s work, as he describes it, is “to unify the landscape into a cohesive link firmly connecting architecture and site.” At Art Southampton the architecture of plants defined spaces for the pavilion and outdoor art while connecting both to the grounds.

To learn more, visit Some of Mr. LaGuardia’s work will also be on view at Guild Hall’s “The Garden As Art” tour on Saturday, August 24. Visit for additional information on the tour.

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