Survival Piece #5: Portable Orchard 

June 29, 2024–Jan 5, 2025

On view
Floor 8

Survival Piece #5: Portable Orchard marks the first standalone museum presentation of the fully realized indoor citrus grove conceived and designed in 1972 by artists Helen Mayer Harrison (1927–2018) and Newton Harrison (1932–2022). This project explores the need for a productive and sustainable food system in an imagined future where natural farming practices are obsolete and cannot be taken for granted. Stretching across the Museum’s eighth-floor gallery, this installation of eighteen live citrus trees rooted in self-contained planters with individual lighting systems reflects a survivalist alternative in the face of environmental decline.  

The Harrisons began their decades-long collaboration in the early 1970s, inspired by emerging environmentalist movements and a growing social awareness of the planet’s vulnerable ecosystems. They brought distinct backgrounds in education and sculpture to their shared creative practice and developed an approach to artmaking that was grounded in cross-disciplinary research and yielded projects that served simultaneously as works of art and calls to action. “To survive as a species,” Helen Harrison reflected, “we are going to have to learn how to grow our own food and take care of ourselves at one point or another. So we started looking at what that means.” Portable Orchard is one of seven Survival Pieces developed by the Harrisons in the early 1970s, each of which proposes an alternative to an existing food production system—from a hog pasture to a shrimp farm. The Harrisons planned for future implementation of these projects by making detailed instruction drawings; the Museum’s recent acquisition of one such drawing was the impetus for this presentation and is on view in the galleries, along with additional archival materials. Portable Orchard reveals the prescient quality of the Harrisons’ research into food sustainability as well as the successes and failures of artificial systems built to sustain life—issues that are even more relevant today than they were fifty years ago when the project was first conceived.

Survival Piece #5: Portable Orchard is organized by Kim Conaty, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator, with Roxanne Smith, Senior Curatorial Assistant.

Generous support for Survival Piece #5: Portable Orchard is provided by Judy Hart Angelo and The Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston.

Major support is provided by the Achilles Memorial Fund and the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.


Pieza de supervivencia #5: Huerto Portátil es la primera presentación museística autónoma del huerto de cítricos en interiores concebido y diseñado en 1972 por los artistas Helen Mayer Harrison (1927-2018) y Newton Harrison (1932-2022). Este proyecto explora la necesidad de diseñar un sistema productivo alimentario y sostenible en un futuro imaginario, donde las prácticas de cultivo tradicionales queden obsoletas y no puedan darse por sentadas. Extendiéndose a través de las galerías del octavo piso del museo, esta instalación de dieciocho árboles de cítricos vivos y plantados en jardineras independientes, con sistemas de iluminación individuales, reflejan una alternativa de supervivencia ante el declive medioambiental.

Los Harrison comenzaron su colaboración de varias décadas a principios de los años setenta, inspirados por el movimiento ambientalista emergente y por la creciente conciencia social sobre la vulnerabilidad de los ecosistemas del planeta. Cada uno aportó su experiencia en los ámbitos de la educación y la escultura a su práctica creativa compartida y desarrollaron un enfoque creativo basado en la investigación interdisciplinaria y la producción de proyectos que sirvieran simultáneamente como obras de arte y reivindicaciones activistas. “Para sobrevivir como especie”, reflexiona Helen Harrison, “tarde o temprano tendremos que aprender cómo cultivar nuestros propios alimentos y cuidarnos a nosotros mismos. Por eso comenzamos a explorar lo que eso significa”. Huerto Portátil es una de las siete Piezas de supervivencia desarrolladas por los Harrison a principios de los años setenta, cada una de las cuales propone una alternativa a un sistema de producción alimentaria existente, desde pasto para cerdos hasta granjas de camarones. Los Harrison planearon implementaciones futuras de estos proyectos realizando dibujos detallados a modo de instrucciones. La adquisición reciente por parte del Museo de uno de esos dibujos fue lo que dio ímpetu a esta muestra y está expuesto en la galería, junto con material de archivo adicional. Huerto Portátil revela la faceta profética de la investigación de los Harrison sobre sostenibilidad alimentaria, al igual que los éxitos y fracasos de los sistemas artificiales creados para sustentar la vida, cuestiones que son aún más relevantes hoy que hace cincuenta años, cuando el proyecto fue concebido inicialmente.

Pieza de supervivencia #5: Huerto Portátil ha sido organizada por Kim Conaty, Nancy and Steve Crown Family Chief Curator, con Roxane Smith, Asistente curatorial sénior.


2024 Installation and Sustainability

5

The Harrisons described their practice in the 1970s as their “Years of Prophecy,” a period in which their projects envisaged an ever-more-catastrophic ecological future. Now, fifty years later, the work reverberates with new urgency.

Following the Harrisons’ model, the Whitney’s exhibition team has considered the material lifecycles and environmental impact of the fabrication and implementation of this installation. To build the planters and light boxes, the team sourced reclaimed redwood from a local mill, extending the use of these materials and minimizing unnecessary transport. The citrus trees, which do not grow readily in the Northeast, were purchased from a South Carolina orchard that produces several varieties specified by the Harrisons as well as related types—such as the Ruby Red grapefruit and Okitsu mandarin—that supplement the selection. Fruits grown from the trees will be harvested and shared as part of planned programs and staff events. At the close of the exhibition, the trees, wood, and other materials will be replanted, reused, and recycled.

The Harrisons, Survival Piece #5: Portable Orchard, 2024 Installation



Events

View all

Audio guides

Hear directly from artists and curators on selected works from the exhibition.

View guide