GARDEN VARIETIES: National Gallery's Sculptures Complement Hirshhorn's

By Shaw-Eagle, Joanna | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 20, 1999 | Go to article overview

GARDEN VARIETIES: National Gallery's Sculptures Complement Hirshhorn's


Shaw-Eagle, Joanna, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The long-planned National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden opens Sunday at Seventh Street NW, just across the Mall from the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. It occupies a 6-acre area bounded by Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive and Seventh and Ninth Streets NW, west of the museum's West Building.

Proposed in 1966, the gallery's garden features 20 works of sculpture by mainly American post-World War II artists. The handsomely landscaped setting contains works by many of the big names: David Smith, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Roy Lichtenstein and Sol LeWitt, among others.

Some are very large, such as Mr. LeWitt's 15-foot-high, minimalist "Four-Sided Pyramid" of concrete blocks and Mr. Oldenburg's 20-foot-tall pop satire, "Typewriter Eraser, Scale X."

Others are smaller. Polish sculptor Magdalena Abakanowicz's tender evocation of Nazi victims, "Puellae," is only 3 feet high. With this cluster of 30 young girls, the sculptor visually tells the horror of captive children found frozen to death in cattle cars bound for Poland from Germany.

The colors and materials of the pieces vary greatly. The dull black painted surfaces of Tony Smith's huge "Moondog" contrast with the glinting polished steel of David Smith's "Cubi XXVI" and George Rickey's "Cluster of Four Cubes." It is impossible to miss Calder's "Cheval Rouge" ("Red Horse"), both for its size and its brilliant color.

Crowning the whole is a circular fountain that jets water in enormous, curved arcs during the warm months. Placed in the garden's center, it is a giant kinetic sculpture that is both majestic and exhilarating. It also provides a welcoming, cool respite in Washington's hot summers.

Obviously, the gallery's sculpture park will make a significant contribution to Washington's art scene and attract people who would not ordinarily go to a museum.

Yet, we can question whether having two costly gardens of modern sculpture, the National Gallery's and the Hirshhorn's, is appropriate and necessary in the nation's capital. With the gallery's new garden, do we have an overabundance of riches?

Consider the Hirshhorn's sculpture holdings first, thought to be among the best in the world. The collection, given to the nation by multimillionaire Joseph H. Hirshhorn in 1966, opened as the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in 1974.

The collector was so passionate about his art that he insisted "Sculpture Garden" be included in the name of the museum. At the time of his death in 1981, he had given 2,650 pieces of sculpture.

The Hirshhorn's 1 1/2-acre parklike space is starkly geometric in outline and originally was planned to mesh with the National Gallery's proposed sculpture garden. Then, as now, the gallery's park featured a round pool with concentric rows of linden trees around it.

Inside the Hirshhorn garden, we are led gently with ramps 14 feet down to a sunken garden. The focus of the central courtyard is Auguste Rodin's famed "Burghers of Calais."

The collection includes the full range of modern sculpture. There is the figurative tradition seen in the work of Rodin, Aristide Maillol and Henri Matisse. We also see the organically abstract approach to sculpture in Jean Arp's, Joan Miro's and Henry Moore's pieces.

Artists here who worked with geometric and constructivist styles are Calder, David Smith and Reuben Nakian.

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GARDEN VARIETIES: National Gallery's Sculptures Complement Hirshhorn's
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