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Published on Jan 4, 2011
Adam Purple and The Garden of Eden Film by Amy Brost Photographs by Harvey Wang
In 1975, Adam Purple set out to plant a garden behind his tenement building at 184 Forsyth Street, at a time when the Lower East Side was a crime-ridden wasteland. It was a massive undertaking -- the site had been buried in rubble from the demolition of two other tenements. While clearing nearly 5,000 cubic feet of debris using only simple tools and raw muscle power, Adam began to create his own topsoil from materials he found at the site and around the city. In addition to traditional composting, Adam made the seven-mile round trip to Central Park on his bicycle almost every day to bring carriage-horse manure back to the Garden, carrying about 60 pounds on each trip.
His circular design had mathematical and metaphysical meaning: The Garden of Eden grew exponentially with the addition of each new ring of plant beds, and at its center was a double Yin-Yang symbol. By 1986, his world famous eARThWORK had grown to 15,000 square feet. Among the many crops and flowers were 100 rose bushes and 45 fruit and nut trees. Adam "zenvisioned" the Garden expanding until it replaced the skyscrapers of New York. For Adam Purple—social activist, philosopher, and urban gardener/ revolutionary—the Garden was the medium of his political and artistic expression.
When the Garden was slated for demolition to make way for a federally funded housing project, many prominent New Yorkers wrote letters and made statements of support for Adam and the Garden. Alternative designs that would have spared the Garden or incorporated it into the new structure were displayed in the 1984 exhibition "Adam's House in Paradise" at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in SoHo. Nevertheless, The Garden of Eden was razed on January 8, 1986, and the new housing project did not include an apartment for Adam or space for a new garden.
In terms of his revolutionary ideas about sustainability and living as humble members of the natural world, Adam was ahead of his time. He has not yet been properly recognized as an important environmental artist. This film is part of an effort to ensure that Adam Purple and his unique, site-specific artwork are not forgotten.