Philip Haas, who began his career by making documentaries of celebrated contemporary artists before going on to make a number of feature films, has given up the medium to become a sculptor. As ambitious as any cinematic epic, Haas' new installation of four monumental sculptures that just opened at The New York Botanical Garden has all the spectacle of the 3-D effects and larger-than-life iconography of any picture currently up on the screen. Haas tells us that the project started "as an idea for an idea" to make a sculpture in a garden. His inclination to make art based in historical terms led him to explore a suite of paintings called The Four Seasons by the enigmatic Renaissance painter Guiseppe Arcimboldo -- a series of uncanny heads rendered in trompe l'oeil vegetables, flowers and other horticulture. The sculpture garden truly reflects Haas' ability to rework on a grand scale: what were two-foot paintings are now 15-foot-tall sculptures made of resins and fiberglass.
Long ago forgotten by history, and only brought back to some esoteric degree of appreciation in the past century by the Surrealists, little is known of this Arcimboldo today. Historians remain uncertain whether he was a true visionary or simply a sly trickster. Since Haas prides all his work on the level of scholarship he brings to representation, we put the riddle to him: is the daft work of a lunatic, or a kind of super-rational formalism in the Renaissance tradition of constructing elaborate visual puzzles? To which he didn't hesitate in the least when he surmised, "probably both."