Brookgreen Opens Gates to Much-Anticipated ‘Southern Light’ Exhibit

By Terry Massey ˙ May 11, 2020

The lights installed at Brookgreen Gardens come to life after sunset. – Copyright © 2019 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved, Christopher John

What happens when a world-renowned experiential artist uses one of South Carolina’s most scenic locations as his canvas and inspiration?

The local arts community and curious onlookers finally can see for themselves beginning May 15 with the much-anticipated premiere of “Bruce Munro at Brookgreen: Southern Light.”

Known for his large-scale light sculptures and multimedia displays in the great outdoors, Munro casts Brookgreen Gardens in a new light with a display that is as awe-inspiring as it is difficult to describe. Think Lowcountry botanical sculpture garden brought to life at night via a modern-art makeover.

“It’s a massive art exhibit that uses fiber-optic light, and sound, and color, and movement,” Brookgreen Gardens director of marketing Lauren Joseph said of the “Southern Light” display. “It’s just incredible.”

After the originally scheduled April debut was delayed due to the coronavirus lockdown, Brookgreen Gardens anxiously unveils an exhibit that is two years in the making and even longer in conception.

“We actually reached out to him after one of our staff members saw his (2015 “Light in the Garden” exhibit) in Atlanta several years ago,” Joseph recalled. “We thought his work would be a great fit for Brookgreen.”

So did Munro. He accepted Brookgreen’s long-standing invitation to tour the gardens in 2018. Like most first-time visitors to the former rice plantation turned botanical sculpture garden, Munro was inspired, calling it a “a magical place with an edge of the unknown.”

The British artist took his impressions and interpretations of Brookgreen Gardens back to the studio before beginning the installation process earlier this year. The result promises to be some of Munro’s finest works, and some of Brookgreen’s finest hours.

“There is a lot of excitement about it,” Joseph said. “Even the people doing the installation work said they have been to a lot of different sites and this one is really going to be a special exhibit.”

Hexagonal bee lights fill the gaps of the brick Bell Tower in Bruce Munro’s site-specific work “Hive.” – Copyright © 2019 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved, Christopher John

Seeing is Conceiving

Fans of Munro’s work and regular Brookgreen visitors may have a better idea of what to expect from “Southern Light”, but even they are in for an enlightening experience. The merger of Brookgreen’s artistic and natural beauty with Munro’s craft and creativity offers a rare glimpse of the gardens aglow in an artistic light.

Munro was struck by Brookgreen’s series of interconnected “garden rooms” and figurative sculptures “surrounded by an untamed wilderness.” He also makes effective use of the property’s many pools to reflect an array of light and color. Munro incorporates all those elements into “Southern Light,” which features seven works, most site-specific to Brookgreen Gardens. At the risk of issuing a spoiler alert, there are a few can’t-miss pieces.

When Munro saw Brookgreen’s historic Bell Tower, he envisioned a massive beehive and designed yellow lights representing individual bees to be placed between the spaces in the brick latticework – 1,448 of them, to be exact. “Hive” is one of the highlights of the exhibit, featuring the buzzing of the swarm as the ringing bell calls them home.

Munro also found inspiration in the Beyond the Garden Wall section that overlooks the old rice fields. During a family trip to Africa he was serenaded nightly by a chorus of tree frogs and formed the genesis of the piece that has become “Okonjima Choral Society.” It features around 2000 “eyes” peering out of the grass accompanied by the sounds of a three part frog chorus.

“I told (Munro) there might be some nights when our South Carolina frogs join in and start cranking it up,” Joseph said.

Other works include “Fireflies” in the Oak Allée area, “Time and Again” in the Pegasus Field, “Water Towers” in The Visionaries section, “Reflections” in the arcade area, and Munro’s iconic work “Field of Light” in the Arboretum. Factor in the existing works of art and nature at Brookgreen Gardens and you have a venue that is both visually stunning and thought-provoking for those who pass through the gates.

“There are a few things that will look familiar to (“Nights of a Thousand Candles” guests),” said Joseph, citing the illuminated Fountain of Muses and the new pathway lighting system as decorative holdovers from the annual holiday showcase. “But this exhibit is about Bruce’s vision and his use of art, light and multimedia to have people understand the connection between nature and ourselves.”

Splashes of color reflect off the garden’s ponds in one of seven exhibits by artist Bruce Munro. – Copyright © 2019 Bruce Munro. All rights reserved, Christopher John

Modern Art in a New Era

Hosting an exhibit for an internationally acclaimed experiential artist is not the only thing that is new for Brookgreen Gardens this season. So is the concept of social distancing in a wide-open venue.

Unlike the normal format where guests are free to explore the property as they please, Brookgreen Gardens has enacted new measures to give visitors plenty of time and space to tour the exhibit with minimal contact among patrons. Small groups will be admitted in intervals along marked paths to maintain proper social distancing.

“We’re doing a one-way walk through for a good bit of the exhibit to make it easier for folks to social distance,” Joseph said. “Unlike other events where you walk in and wonder about, we are going to have staggered admission and an entry spot where you begin the exhibit.”

Brookgreen also has stepped up its already stringent sanitation protocols and is encouraging guests to wear facemasks during their visit. It is all part of an effort to keep visitors safe, as well as keep the Munro exhibit operational throughout the summer and beyond.

Originally scheduled to run through Sept. 12, Brookgreen is keeping the closing date open for the possibility of extending the exhibit to make up for lost time. For now, “Southern Light” opens the weekend of May 15-16 and runs Wednesdays through Saturdays the following weeks.

Following Brookgreen’s regular daily schedule from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., the park is cleared for “Southern Light” to run from 8 to 11 p.m. Nightly admission is $20 for Brookgreen members ($12 for children) and $25 for non-members ($15 for children). Advanced tickets only may be purchased online at or by calling 844-271-3410.