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Art

It’s summer. And there you are in the garden (well, somebody’s garden, anyway).

I’ll bet you have one..maybe more…In a closet, gathering dust. Out in the garden, scaring the hell out of the squirrels. Holding down papers that you mean to get to some day in a corner of your desk.

Wikipedia says there are 25 million of them in Germany. Not counting any place else. That’s a lot of gnomes.

Why? Are they art? Decoration? Or is it something else entirely? Is your gnome a subversive? What does it say about you?
A recent article in the New York Times started me thinking about the humble gnome. In a review of his book, “The Hermit in the Garden: From Imperial Rome to Ornamental Gnome, ” author Gordon Campbell was quoted as saying “They plummet from being upper class to being working class,”. Yikes. The Daily Mail says that having one in your garden will lower the price of your house by £441 (an odd number). My gnome is looking at me reproachfully.

Why are the little folks so popular, despite their fall from social grace? There is currently a dispute going on in Oakland California, pitting a large utility company against a local artist painting pictures of gnomes and attaching them to utility poles. 2,300 of them, so far. The residents love them. The utility company, not so much. And of course there is the famous installation of “nazi gnomes” from the installation of Ottmar Hoerl, exhibited in Belgium and Italy. The unloved gnomes of Paul McCarthy. The large installation a few years ago at jardins de Bagatelle (where mine comes from). This year’s exhibition at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. And there’s even a group dedicated to liberating them – the tongue-firmly-in-cheek Garden Gnome Liberation Front.

Traditionally, they’ve been banned from the Chelsea Flower Show – but this year made their first appearance as a fundraiser, (the top gnome made over £2,000). Loved, loathed, stolen, traveling, even hung from a bridge. They are mostly male (but not entirely), mostly ceramic (but not always).

And where’s yours?

About the Author

Maura Haverly

Maura Haverly

Maura Nestor Haverly has had a very diverse career in the arts, since dinosaurs roamed the earth, starting with Hammer Galleries/Knoedler Graphics in New York. In 1985 she was named Director of Art Ex...
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