The gardener's eye

The Gardener's Eye

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

National Gallery Sculpture Garden In April

Graft, 2009. Roxy Paine. Gleditsia triancanthos inermis 'Halka' over patio.

Spider, 1996. Louise Bourgeois. Hydrangea quercifolia in foreground.

Cheval Rouge, 1974. Alexander Calder. Tilia cordata 'Greenspire' hedge above left.

Four-Sided Pyramid, 1999. Sol LeWitt. Cladrastis lutea to the left.

House I, 1996/1998. Roy Lichtenstein. Styrax obassia in bloom.

Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, 1999. Claes Oldenburg.

Personage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair, 1974. Joan Mira. Ulmus americana behind.

On Saturday morning, we were on our way to the East Building of the National Gallery of Art, when we passed the Gallery's sculpture Garden on Constitution Avenue on the Mall. Our interest was immediately peaked. The Sculpture Garden is a 6.1 acre outdoor gallery/ arboretum. It has 18 modern and contemporary artworks set in a landscape designed with extraordinary perennials, ground covers, shrubs and trees. It was the perfect contrast to Dumbarton Oaks the day before.

Many of the same trees were growing in both gardens but planted in very different but ways with one exception. Both gardens had a circular pool enclosed by clipped standard hedges. In Dumbarton Oaks' garden, the hedge forms an ellipse of American hornbeam, Carpinus carolina. The Sculpture Garden, on the other hand, has lindens, Tilia cordata 'Greenspire', clipped in a round wall around the pool.

My favorite sculpture was also the most recently installed piece called Graft by Roxy Paine. It is made of shiny stainless steel and is very angular. It reminds me of a photograph I once saw of of British photographer, Andrew Lawson's garden. Apparently a tree, a cherry I think, had unexpectedly died. Rather than removing the tree, he painted it bright blue and it became garden sculpture for several seasons until it finally rotted and was removed.

The Sculpture Garden renews my interest in having some sort of sculpture in my own garden. I think I will take a cue from Dumbarton Oaks and have it be the focal point on one of the axes in my garden. However, I am inclined to have the sculpture be more contemporary, perhaps made of discarded granite and iron that I have collected over the years. That solution allows me to honor the age and formal design of my garden without being predictable or use mass-produced objects that have no heart.


  1. From your pictures, Graft is my favourite as well - it looks stunning. Sometimes I have the feeling that a large number of garden sculptures are a tad unoriginal and don't relate to their environment (or vice versa), but there are some nice examples here.

  2. Yes, getting garden sculpture right is not easy. I am a bit intimidated to try it in my own garden.

  3. It's funny, but we have 3 sculptures that are almost exactly the same at the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle: the typewrite eraser, the metal tree & an orange Calder named Eagle. Is there a sculpture garden art catalog out there? I'm sorry to say it, but they look better in Seattle than in Washington.

  4. Jordan,
    Thanks for the comment. Sounds like I need to add the Olympic Sculpture garden to my list of gardens to visit. I enjoyed seeing your hell strip in bloom on the Greenwalks blog. You have a lot of intriguing plants in that little public space!

  5. This looks a lot like the UNL campus here in Nebraska. We also have a Roxy Paine tree (my office window looks out at it), but our tree is not as ornate as the one above. I remember how big of a deal it was when installed--some people hated it, some loved it. I think it's great, especially in winter.

  6. Benjamin,
    Thanks for visiting my blog. I was unfamiliar with the work of Roxy Paine before our trip. I'm going to find a picture of the UNL tree.I think the DC tree would look very cool in winter.

  7. Those garden sculptures are very unique and different from the conventional ones!



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