Urban Sculpture: the spirit of place

Posted by admin in Interior Garden

Audubon Park in New Orleans has always been a paradise for runners. Few urban spaces offer a pathway so resplendent with the graceful archways of massive live oaks shading the winding roadways around the well manicured golf course. Not long ago, the Audubon Institute added a new surprise for its visitors. Four massive primitive figures stand boldly at its St. Charles Avenue entrance overlooking the lake. Few know why or from whence these garden sculptures came, they are just there now. New ephemeral spirits to remind us of how intriguing garden sculptures are and what new dimensions they can add to outdoor space.

Certainly, the on of the Sidney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden next to the New Orleans Museum of Art added a playful element to City Park. The dreamy Art Deco WPA commissioned female figures of Enrique Alferez sculptures in City Park’s Botanical Gardens have always had a following; however, these new bold sculptures forged in iron in the Sidney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden evoke silent wonderment. They are so big and so thought provoking. This is what can make great sculpture in public gardens worth experiencing.

The City Park sculpture of a hearty mother standing on her dormant child with a crying babe in arms needs no explanation. This strong image of life and sacrifice sets the stage for quite reflection as one wanders through Sidney and Walda Besthoff’s Sculpture Garden. An enormous daddy long leg spider seems to scurry across the grounds next to a large bold image of a man. A water sculpture, an abstraction surrounded by nature, flows forth with the essence of life evoking a since of calm and repose to all those who gaze upon it. The massive live oak trees alone act as natural sculptures in this breathtaking sculpture garden reminding us that nature is imitated in art.

After the end of the New Orleans World’s Fair in 1984, vibrant remnants of the Fair’s Exhibition Hall’s appeared on private lawns and public spaces. Most memorable is the multi-colored fish that can still be seen downtown on Poydras Street. It is the installment of the unordinary in an ordinary setting that makes the placement of contemporary sculpture such a pleasure. Great urban sculpture placement is found when it seizes the soul with its contrast to the mundane and rudimentary landscape of everyday life.

Poetry in motion can be found in the colorful suspended sculptures of famous New Orleans artist, Ida Kohlmeyer. “Acquatic Colonnade,” a series of monumental slices of metal by Kohlmeyer, line Woldenberg Park by the Aquarium of the Americas. The coat-and-tie-crowd of the Texaco building not far from City Hall get to rush past another playful Kohlmeyer sculpture on their way to their pressing deadlines. Some may stop to marvel for even just a moment at how fluid the panels of primary color metal wave in the wind. And it is for this moment that affirms the usefulness of urban art for the masses. Reminding us at some level this type of sculpture allows us to revisit our childhood where sand boxes and building blocks were once the order of the day.

Urban sculpture of course is found in classical images or historical figures cast in iron and bronze. The stern statue of the famous Confederate General Robert E. Lee facing southward over Lee Circle is said to represent his attitude towards the Civil War Yankees. With Lee’s back turned against the north, there is even symbolic whimsy in this traditional sculpture. Right across the street from Lee’s last stand, past the clatter of rattling streetcars, is the Katz and Besthoff building where an impressive collection of contemporary sculpture teases the imagination.

A gold gilded figure of Joan of Arch rides atop a fiery stallion in the heart of the Vieux Carre. Although not contemporary, this dramatic piece of public art bolts out at you evoking symbols of the spirited French and a female’s determination to conquer for the love of her Deity. Equally symbolic is the famous statue of Andrew Jackson reigning over Jackson Square upon his noble horse. Again we find humor in the story that he is tipping his hat to his mistress’, Baroness Micaela Almonester Pontalba, window who’s monograms are forged in every balcony of the Pontalba buildings surrounding the Square. The mimes on the nearby streets aspire to be sculptures as they remain seemingly frozen to the delight of the crowds. Urban art in any form can strike a cord of joy for those that behold it.

Across the ocean Louisiana’s mother country, France, is resplendent with gardens of sculpture. The Jardin du Luxembourg is a virtual wonderland of classical figures carved from limestone and marble. And yet, even here the desire for whimsy in the garden prevails. Floating in the garden’s reflection pond flanked by a powerful bronze of Neptune is a very, very large nose and lips protruding from the water. Yes, it is clearly a part of a face, a huge face seemingly in blissful sleep. The skin looks real and the nose is definitely fashioned after a Frenchmen who enjoys sniffing good cheese. This outlandish sculpture in the middle of the great collection of classical statues confirms how well wit in urban art redefines the spirit of the place. Here, one stops to stare in disbelief and then to smile at the “why not of it all”. Commanding, unexpected and well placed urban sculpture can set the stage for spirited outdoor spaces.

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