The Baltimore Museum of Art Sculpture Gardens
To let you discover new sculpture parks around the world, Sculpture Nature had the pleasure to ask a few questions to Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Paintings and Sculpture, and Brad Pudner, Chief Gardener, both working at the Baltimore Museum of Art.
Sculpture Nature: The Baltimore Museum of Arts was originally founded in 1914 but the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden opened only in 1980, followed by the adjoining Levi Sculpture Garden in 1988. Why did the museum decide to create not one but two sculpture gardens?
Oliver Shell: The Wurzburger and the Levi families were both involved with the Baltimore Museum of Art and they each had a sculpture collection in their private gardens in different towns here in Maryland. While a few works were purchased with museum guidance the collections are essentially formed by the collectors. These were gifted to the BMA at different times. In each case a plot of land had to be acquired or, in the case of the Levi Sculpture Garden, leased from our neighbor, Johns Hopkins University.
ScNa: Could you describe the curatorial choices that define the Wurtzburger and the Levi Sculpture Gardens, home to 34 masterworks of modern and contemporary sculpture?
O.S.: Well the Wurtzburger collection was largely purchased by Alan and Janet Wurtzburger between 1955-1973. The earliest works include a Rodin sculpture of Balzac and a Bourdelle allegorical figure of Fruit or Pomona. The latest works include a Calder stabile and an abstract Noguchi piece in our mirror pool. There is a general focus on post-World War II sculptures including a Marini, a Lipchitz, and a Zadkine, that reference the war. The Zadkine for instance is The Destroyed City, 1957 -a smaller version of the monument in Rotterdam.
The Levi Sculpture Garden was collected between 1960 and 1988. Most of the sculptures are abstract and a number of them are by American minimalist artists such as Michael Heizer and Tony Smith. Most of the works are constructed as opposed to being cast in bronze. One exception is a lovely owl head by Joan Miró.
ScNa: Do the outdoor sculpture collections evolve? If yes, how?
O.S.: In some ways there is a constant evolution because of the natural surroundings. We were saddened recently to lose a great big oak tree, but at the same time we now have more light in part of the garden. We do occasionally move sculptures to enhance their visibility and to recontextualize them. In the future we may be more involved with that and even perhaps adding or substituting works.
ScNa: What are the activities, tours, projects offered by the museum to keep the gardens lively year-round?
O.S.: We do give regular sculpture garden tours usually combining a curator and our head gardner. We also have an annual summer jazz concert series held in the Wurtzburger Garden.As Maryland has a somewhat mild but still seasonal climate the gardens are kept very lively by the different floral plantings. Mainly we find that the public enjoys the beauty of the gardens by themselves or in small groups as a sort of escape from the surrounding city.
ScNa: Museums, private and public institutions seem to be more and more aware of the cognitive benefits of a sculpture garden for patients with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. They create specific programs and activities aimed to promote wellbeing and quality of life through engagement with the visual arts. Are there any particular initiatives you have undertaken during the years to open the gardens to this specific public? If yes, could you describe them and briefly tell us how they have been received?
O.S.: I am not aware of any specific use of the gardens for patients with Alzheimer’s disease. We have had regular Yoga classes that took place in the Levi Garden.
ScNa: Yorkshire Sculpture Park is currently restoring The Family Man by Barbara Hepworth. In a recent article Laura Davies, Sculpture Conservator at the YSP, talks about this process in terms of how important and essential it is to stay faithful to the artist intent while renovating the color and the material. I suppose you have similar issues about outdoor sculptures.
O.S.: Yes, we recently repainted the large Calder stabile 100 Yard Dash in the Levi Garden and it required very precise input from the Calder Foundation to find the matching color in a modern paint. We have also needed to repair works that suffered frost damage and have had to remove graffiti from one work. We are about to undertake a major restoration of our Mark de Suvero sculpture Sister Lu, 1978-1979, which will require lifting the work out of the sculpture garden by crane.
ScNa: Sculpture Nature: what does this association evoke for you?
O.S.: While some sculpture is deliberately anti-naturalistic, such as our Futurist Horse by Raymond Duchamp-Villon, the experience of seeing sculpture in outdoor light with plants and nature is far more satisfying aesthetically than seeing the same works in a gallery.
ScNa: Could you recommend a sculpture park to our readers?
O.S.: I would have to say that Storm King in New York state is my favorite. Be sure to bring good shoes if you go !
ScNa: How were the two gardens designed ? What are their major highlights?
Brad Pudner: The Wurtzburger Garden includes a series of bluestone plazas for the display of sculptures with a focal point of a fountain and pool with a stepping stone bridge. The planted areas soften the concrete and bluestone. The Levi Garden is a more naturalistic wooded dell, featuring a grand entrance balcony which offers a bird’s eye view before descending the staircase to a loop path around the base of the garden. It also features a beautiful pergola covered in wisteria which offers a nice shaded seating area in the summer.
Sculpture Nature: Is there any particular relation between the sculptures and the surrounding flora and how does this dialogue evolve throughout the year with the changing seasons ? Are new trees or plants introduced from time to time?
B.P.: Since the sculptures are the focal point of the gardens, the plantings mostly serve as a backdrop for them, but there are some exceptions such as a large flower bed near the restaurant and pool and flower pots to accent entrances and benches (both in the Wurtzburger Garden). While the plantings mostly serve as backdrops, they still include flowering plants with the belief that they can still be nice gardens as well. Plant characteristics that mark all good garden design are applied here as well… evergreens offer winter anchors, and more ephemeral perennials and flowers offer a softer evolving texture and color backdrop that changes throughout the seasons. New plantings are introduced thoughtfully as areas call for refreshing.
ScNa: How many gardeners does the museum employ? Any seasonal workers during summertime or wintertime? Could you tell us briefly about their main tasks?
B.P.: I spend a lot of time out doing garden tasks when not doing planning and communications. I also have the equivalent of 1.5 gardeners (one half-time), and I hire landscape companies for larger projects. The gardeners do everything from new plantings to all areas of maintenance (mulching, weeding, pruning, mowing, watering, leaf removal).
ScNa: What is the relationship gardeners enjoy with the sculpture collection, in terms of appropriation of the artworks?
B.P.: Since the sculptures are mostly fixed, my interaction with sculpture curators is mostly in interpretation. One recent development that I’ve enjoyed is doing co-tours with Oliver where he talks about the artwork and I talk about the garden design and plantings. We also frequently work with sculpture conservators, mainly about how to take appropriate precautions when trimming plants that grow near sculptures, etc.
ScNa: Sculpture Nature : what does this association evoke for you?
B.P.: I enjoy learning more about the art and also considering how to tweak the plantings to offer a maximized experience for the sculptures’ viewers and enjoy considering this ongoing question with curators and conservators and the family trustees.
ScNa: Could you recommend a sculpture park to our readers?
B.P.: While the BMA’s gardens are a unique treasure, a couple others that I’ve enjoyed are Hirshhorn in Washington, D.C. and while it is more than a sculpture park, Millenium Park in Chicago is amazing.
Baltimore Museum of Art
10 Art Museum Drive, Baltimore, MD 21218-3898
Telephone: (443) 573-1700
The Janet and Alan Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden and Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden are open year-round Wednesday-Friday 10am to dusk, and Saturday-Sunday 11am to dusk. They may close during inclement weather or for private events.