September - Vol.18 No. 7
Sculpture Moves Outdoors
In 1987, when the International Sculpture Center published its first Directory of Sculpture Parks and Gardens, it contained 97 entries. By 1996, with the second edition of the directory, this number had climbed to 195, an extraordinary increase. And I’m quite certain that the International Sculpture Center’s upcoming "Sculpture Parks and Gardens Conference" (October 13–16, 1999), will reveal that this trend continues.
Grounds For Sculpture (where I am director and curator), now in its sixth year and a relative newcomer to the field, has received numerous inquiries about how to start and develop a sculpture park. In fact, the growing interest and activity in the field has promoted such diversity that it has become difficult to pin down just what characterizes a sculpture park.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines "park" as "a tract of land set aside for public use, as: a. An expanse of enclosed grounds for recreational use within or adjoining a town. b. A landscaped city square. c. A tract of land kept in its natural state." Another meaning is, "a country estate, especially when including extensive gardens, woods, pastures…" The same source defines garden as "grounds adorned with flowers, shrubs, and trees for public enjoyment." Note the repeated references to public use and incorporation into daily life—in other words, accessibility. Add "sculpture" to the setting and you have a somewhat stodgy, yet quite literal, definition of a sculpture park or garden.
In their attempt to classify the many types of sculpture parks and gardens, Sidney Lawrence and George Foy, authors of Music in Stone: Great Sculpture Gardens of the World (Scala Books (1984, one of the few titles on the subject), divided the field into four broad categories. The first, "Open-Air Collections," includes venues such as Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York, and Fattoria di Celle in Pistoia, Italy. The "Museum Gardens" category lists the Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC and the Kröller-Muller Museum in Otterlo, Netherlands. "Aristocratic Gardens" features, for example, Versailles in France and Schwetzingen, Mannheim in Germany. Finally, "Ancient Sculpture Sites" contains Easter Island in the South Pacific and Stonehenge in England.
Today, upon taking a closer look, these categories can be further divided into public, private, and corporate collections, plus institutional collections such as those found at universities. There are also sculpture parks that represent the work of one sculptor, often the park’s founder, and others whose sculpture reflects a particular theme. For instance, the city of Springfield, Massachusetts, has honored its native son, Theodor Geisel, (also known as Doctor Seuss), with a sculpture garden featuring a number of Seuss characters. There are even venues as divergent as arboretums, which have incorporated outdoor sculpture exhibitions into their public programming, such as the Morris Arboretum in Philadelphia.
More and more frequently, sculptors are becoming involved in the creation of these parks, from the initial design process through to administration. One of the first to reach completion is the Pasadena City College Sculpture Garden, on which renowned New York sculptor Jody Pinto has been working for three years. Solely responsible for the garden’s design, Pinto was selected for the task from a group of 30 artists. The site is unique because it is located right in the middle of the college. It is the focal point, and as such the garden was designed to relate to the students, faculty, and community. The plan incorporates three primary forms—an elevated, circular plaza connected to an amphitheater by a 450-foot linear water trough. Referred to by Pinto as a "Garden of Activities," the project allows for sculpture installations, student functions, gatherings, and performances. At night the lighting outlines the forms and pathways, creating the effect of a constellation. Known for numerous public artworks and site-specific open space plans, Pinto believes the field of sculpture is moving closer to urban planning. In the case of the Pasadena City College Sculpture Garden, which opened with a dedication ceremony at the end of April, this belief has resulted in the sculpture and the garden becoming more fully integrated into a unified whole.
Not only are new sculpture parks coming into being at a remarkable rate, but older institutions are expanding their spaces, exhibiting more from their collections by withdrawing works from storage, and moving outdoors. A case in point: the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, breaks ground this summer for the Patricia F. Pfundt Sculpture Garden, which is scheduled to open to the public in the spring of 2000. The museum and adjacent regional library were built on the vacated site of the old Bucks County prison, using the grounds and some of the walls and original buildings. The museum’s director, Bruce Katsiff, cites two primary reasons behind the planning of the new sculpture garden. Aesthetically, the Michener’s site, enclosed by remnants of the prison’s 23-foot-high sandstone and shale walls, is a natural for the development of a self-contained garden. And much of the museum’s sculpture collection is otherwise in storage because there is not adequate room for its display in the existing facility.
The garden’s designer, landscape architect S. Edgar David of Worcester, Pennsylvania, was inspired both by the site’s history and by the surrounding landscapes. David describes these landscapes as ranging from "the rugged and rural Piedmont region in the upper county to the more populated, flat Coastal Plain at its lower end." Using indigenous materials selected from this landscape, Edgar has organized the space into an upper garden with a rill flowing into a basin on a main terrace. These areas incorporate a finely graveled "Wall Walk" and "Humbling Path," names which vividly conjure images of the prison’s original function. An interpretive exhibit of a three-dimensional, abstract portrayal of a prison cell is also planned. As David states, "The overall impression the garden seeks to convey is one of restraint and simplicity. It is primarily a background, the purpose of which is to enhance the sculptures it contains."
The roles sculpture parks and gardens play are as diverse as the parks and gardens themselves. Accessibility to the art is a fundamental goal. In contrast to interior exhibitions, frequently held in pristine white rooms with unsmiling guards lurking around every corner, sculpture parks offer the visitor an open, natural space in which to approach the work and become acquainted with it from every possible viewpoint. The air of exclusivity is lost, and many who may not otherwise feel comfortable in galleries or museums have the opportunity to explore, to satisfy their curiosity with fewer restrictions. By virtue of being outdoors, the sculpture is in a familiar, informal territory, a communal space, a natural as opposed to an artificial setting.
For the visitor, there’s the added appeal of nature. In this helter-skelter age of jets and fax machines, the invitation to retreat to a quiet place in the fresh, open air becomes a popular one. The garden serves as an oasis. What better opportunity to incorporate sculpture into this experience? This allure is especially powerful in urban areas, where sculpture gardens, with their soft, green grass underfoot, offer relief from crowded streets and the ubiquitous gray of concrete, providing a brief respite and contemplative atmosphere of plantings, water features, and art.
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden of the Walker Art Center is just such an urban garden. The sculptures on view, part of the Walker Art Center’s permanent collection and exhibition program, are situated on 11 acres, making it the largest urban sculpture garden in the country. The southern portion of the garden, designed by Edward Larrabee Barnes (also architect of the Walker Art Center building), consists of four squared plazas walled by formal arborvitae hedges. The northern section, designed by the firm of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., is less formally organized. Gently curved walkways meander through the garden among groves of deciduous trees and beds of perennials in bloom from spring through fall. The Cowles Conservatory, a unique greenhouse on the west side of the garden, provides refuge from Minnesota winters and houses, at its center, Frank Gehry’s 22-foot-tall Standing Glass Fish. A perfect marriage of sculpture and the idea of the park and garden, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden has, since 1988, become one of the Twin Cities’ most popular attractions, and Claes Oldenburg’s and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry has become one of its landmarks.
For the sculpture, as well as for the visitor, a door is opened. Scale becomes an entirely different issue in the garden; there are virtually no limits, but the scale of the sculpture is also tremendously affected by the landscaping of its site: proximity to trees and other landscape elements, buildings, color, and the changing seasonal environment all have an effect on the piece. Even more than seasonal changes, viewing sculpture outdoors in continuously changing conditions of natural light—overcast and gray, sunny with strong shadows, the yellow light of a summer sunset—changes the viewer’s experience. After all, the perception of three-dimensional form is primarily a function of light and shadow. When speaking of sculpture parks and gardens in the May/June 1987 issue of Sculpture, Sidney Lawrence wrote, "...these settings allow large-scale sculpture to ‘breathe,’ often with the sky as the primary backdrop, as well as to interact with the elements with more potency than possible in an environment shared with buildings. They are galleries en plein air, evolving with seasons and times of day, expanding our perception and appreciation of the sculptural medium. They exist solely for the aesthetic contemplation, and sometimes the creation, of large-scale sculpture." Indeed, in the outdoors, sculpture comes alive.
Sometimes sculpture parks and gardens can perform quite unexpected roles. Jacqueline Kimball, Associate Editor of Stone in America, a periodical published by the American Monument Association, contacted Grounds For Sculpture earlier this year. The Association’s primary concern is promoting creativity and design in the sculptural aspect of cemetery memorials. Kimball wanted to include Grounds For Sculpture in a recent issue, along with other sculpture parks, because, she says, "We want to encourage our readers to visit sculpture parks to recharge their creative energies, look at stone from a fresh perspective, and find—in other media—ideas to adapt to monuments."
At Grounds For Sculpture, as at other sculpture parks, accessibility is an integral part of our mission to promote contemporary sculpture. Though a private institution, the grounds are open six days per week, with plans for expanded evening hours. There is also a seasonal gazebo cafe, as well as an indoor cafe and recently expanded interior exhibition space.
Sculpture in the open air engages the viewer. It is approachable and enhances outdoor spaces. It encourages interaction and contemplation. Sculpture parks and gardens continue to play an increasing role in this move outdoors. We can be assured that they will persist in having a distinct effect on contemporary sculpture. Sculpture has left the building.
Brooke Barrie is Director and Curator of Grounds For Sculpture, a sculpture park and museum in Hamilton, New Jersey; her recent book, Contemporary Outdoor Sculpture, is available in hardcover from Rockport Publishers. She will be a featured speaker at the Sculpture Parks and Gardens Conference sponsored by the International Sculpture Center, to be held in Hamilton, New Jersey, October 13–16, 1999.