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The New Art Galleries: Urban Cemeteries

Patricia Cronin, Memorial To A Marriage (2002-eternity), Woodlawn Cemetery, the Bronx, New York

With their long-dead inhabitants remembered only foggily, historic cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Green-Wood use art to connect to the living, according to an article in at CityLab.com

 

Allison C Meier writes that In 2002, artist Patricia Cronin purchased a burial plot in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx and installed a three-ton Carrara marble sculpture of her and her then-partner, fellow artist Deborah Kass, in bed. Eyes closed, hair flowing together, they are depicted in a moment of quiet bliss. Called “Memorial to a Marriage,” the piece was a comment on the fact that they were not permitted to be married, and that the legal ways the two women could bind themselves to each other—like through wills or as healthcare proxies—related more to their deaths than their lives.

The Woodlands is the 18th-century former home and garden of botanist William Hamilton, and its transformation into a cemetery in the 19th century protected the land from the rapid development of West Philadelphia. Now it’s a popular green space for the immediate community and is open to respectful recreation, with a jogging path on its perimeter and a Grave Gardeners program, whose volunteers adopt Victorian-era cradle graves and fill them with plants that once would have been maintained by the deceased’s family.

Artistic programs are among these efforts to make The Woodlands a neighborhood resource. Back in 2014, Martha McDonald’s “The Lost Garden” invited visitors into Hamilton’s home for an installation drawing on Victorian crafts such as wax flowers and hair jewelry. A performance among the tombs, with the artist dressed in a black hoop skirt and veil, looked back to the site’s rural-cemetery origins.

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