Beardsley found himself up against a view that the garden was enough of an artwork itself that it needed no embellishment.
The eminent and outspoken landscape historian John Dixon Hunt, who once held Beardsley’s position at Dumbarton Oaks, wrote in Landscape Architecture magazine that “it is not clear to me why such an iconic garden needs to be subverted with material and forms alien to it.”
Most of the unhappy visitors to the Simonds show were content to complain orally or in written comments, although one person was driven to smash the nose of the head in the Rose Garden (where the Blisses’ ashes are interred).
Walter Howell, a gardener who has helped with the installations, said he imagined the miscreant not a youthful vandal but “an elderly patron who was whacking it with their cane.”
Beardsley says it is wrong to think of a garden, even one as historic as Dumbarton Oaks, as something static and unchanging. Plants grow and die here, including big old trees, and the design, too, has evolved. “No one who has ever worked in a garden thinks of it as finished,” he said. He notes that some of the garden’s most signal spaces — the Hornbeam Ellipse, the Pebble Garden — took their present forms after Farrand retired.
The Arbor Terrace features the shady retreat of a magnificent wisteria-clad teak pergola alongside an open terrace framed by decorative masonry and ironwork and surrounded by tall pear trees. Farrand designed it as a place for a herb garden. Her successor, Ruth Havey, reworked it with rococo flourishes. It was always a hot and exposed site, which is why Cao and Perrot wanted to place their cloud there, and because the scale was so right.
The works are not mere sculptures but are designed to engage their specific site. “Easy Rider,” Beardsley said, “was the most gardenesque, organic.” “Cloud Terrace,” he said, leading a visitor beneath its prismatic crystals, “is the least organic, the most ornamental and yet seems very natural in that it intensifies your experience of light.”
The work took three weeks to build. (“Easy Rider” involved 66 volunteers and took four weeks to assemble.) Cao, whose office is in Los Angeles, and the Paris-based Perrot worked with a smaller group of volunteers and directed the most artistic among them to position and hand-tie the Swarovski crystals, which are on loan from their maker.