The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden offers a year-round enjoyment to the viewing public outside the confines of a building. This gallery of art is the only kind in the National Mall in Washington, DC. Apart from the flowering trees and shrubs that decorate the garden, visitors will get a chance to rest and reflect on the works on display in the 6.1-acre area. And of course, there is a ice skating rink in the middle of the garden and a Pavilion Cafe that offers year-round cafe service!
Although the garden is in the open, it is enclosed by a metal fence. Thus, there are opening and closing hours enforced to visitors.
Note: You are not allowed to touch the works of art. On Fridays, you may enjoy free jazz concerts from 5-8 pm.
Mark di Suvero, American, born 1933, Aurora, 1992-1993, steel.
The sculpture that Mark di Suvero began to make in the late 1950s consisted of massive, weathered timbers and found objects such as barrels, chains, or tires. Their dramatically cantilevered forms were seen as sculptural equivalents of the bold, gestural paintings of Franz Kline or Willem de Kooning. In the 1960s di Suvero stopped relying on scavenged industrial materials and began to create works from steel beams that he moved with cranes and bolted together to create large outdoor pieces.
Louise Bourgeois, American, born France, 1911 – 2010, Spider, 1996, cast 1997, bronze with silver nitrate patina.
Since 1984 Louise Bourgeois has been developing a body of work with the spider as protagonist. For the artist, whose work has explored themes of childhood memory and loss, the spider carries associations of a maternal figure. Indeed, Bourgeois’ “Spider” series relates to her own mother who died when the artist was twenty-one. From drawings to large-scale installations, Bourgeois’ spiders appear as looming and powerful protectresses, yet are nurturing, delicate, and vulnerable.
Graft is a sculpture by Roxy Paine.
Tony Smith, American, 1912 – 1980, Moondog, model 1964, fabricated 1998-1999, painted aluminum.
Smith’s work is related to the simplified geometric forms in the minimalist art of the 1960s, but was also strongly influenced by the artist’s early career as an architect. The structure of Moondog is based on the lattice motif that Smith used as the building block for a spare yet complex formal and expressive language. Indeed, while Moondog is a logical geometric configuration (fifteen extended octahedrons plus ten tetrahedrons), from certain viewpoints it has a startling tilt, conveying an impression of instability. Smith compared this sculpture to a variety of forms, including a Japanese lantern and a human pelvic bone. The title itself derives from two sources: Moondog was the name of a blind poet and folk musician who lived in New York City, and Smith has also likened this sculpture to Dog Barking at the Moon, a painting by Joan Miró. He first created Moondog in 1964 as a 33-inch cardboard model, intending to “cast the piece in bronze as a garden sculpture,” which he did in 1970. Smith himself planned the large scale edition of Moondog, although it was not produced in his lifetime.
The skating rink.
Joan Miró, Spanish, 1893 – 1983, Personnage Gothique, Oiseau-Eclair (Gothic Personage, Bird-Flash), model 1974, cast 1977, bronze.
Joan Miró created most of his sculpture — more than 150 examples — after his seventieth birthday. These late works fall into two formal groups: those cast from forms modeled by the artist and those cast from found objects. One of Miró’s largest sculptures, Personnage Gothique relates to both types, since the bird was cast from an object the artist created, while the head was cast from a cardboard box and the body from a donkey yoke. Through the juxtaposition of disparate objects, surrealist artists such as Miró sought to evoke surprise and stimulate associations in the mind of the viewer. With its multiplicity of suggestive forms, Personnage Gothique embodies Miró’s lifelong concern with richly imaginative imagery that he said was “always born in a state of hallucination.”
Claes Oldenburg, American, born Sweden, 1929, and Coosje van Bruggen, American, 1942 – 2009, Typewriter Eraser, Scale X, model 1998, fabricated 1999, painted stainless steel and fiberglass.
In the mid-1960s Claes Oldenburg began to make drawings of monuments based on common objects, such as a clothespin or a pair of scissors, challenging the notion that public monuments must commemorate historical figures or events. The artist’s selection of discredited or obsolete objects extends to those remembered from childhood. As a youngster he enjoyed playing in his father’s office with a typewriter eraser. In the late 1960s and 1970s he used the eraser as a source for drawings, prints, sculpture, and even a never-realized monument for New York City. This sculpture presents a giant falling eraser that has just alighted, the bristles of the brush turned upward in a graceful, dynamic gesture.
Barry Flanagan, British, 1941 – 2009, Thinker on a Rock, 1997, bronze.
Reacting against the formal, constructed metal sculpture that predominated when he was in art school, Barry Flanagan explored painting, dance, and installation pieces. He has produced an inventive and varied body of work filled with humor and poetic associations, often evoked by the particular organic materials he employed. While working with clay in the early 1980s, Flanagan perceived the image of a hare “unveiling” itself before him. The hare has appeared in an endless variety of guises in Flanagan’s bronzes. In Thinker on a Rock the artist substitutes his signature hare for Rodin’s Thinker (1880), making a witty and irreverent reference to one of the world’s best-known sculptures.
Credit: National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden for the descriptions of the works.
Sculpture Garden Visiting Hours
Monday to Saturday: 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Sunday: 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m.
Admission is free.
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See also: My other travel adventures.