Putting the Garden Back in Sculpture Garden

Since we’re on the subject of art, check out what DC’s  Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden used to look like:

No wonder they shut it down in 1979 for a major redesign.  Can you imagine what it would have felt like to be down in that place in the middle of July surrounded by all that paving, baking in the Washington summer sun?  Plus, remember that the garden is sunken, so whatever moist and tepid “breezes” might have oozed off of the Anacostia wouldn’t even have reached this garden.

Look at the people in the picture (taken in 1974), pretending to be interested in the art instead of expressing their real feelings: “I’ve just been transported to the surface of Mercury and I’m head to toe in Polyester!” 

Luckily, a designer named Lester Collins — who was familiar with the concept of vegetation — redesigned the garden to include trees, grass, and vines:

Ahhhhhh, isn’t that better?  Now visitors to the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden can stroll in comfort….which makes it so much more pleasant to pretend they’re studying the sculpture.

Photo source: A Guide to Smithsonian Gardens, by Carole Ottensen

13 thoughts on “Putting the Garden Back in Sculpture Garden

  1. Just outside of Dallas is the big tech center of Las Colinas, and nestled in the center of Las Colinas is a collection of stone cows bought by Trammell Crow in the late Seventies and put on display sometime around 1981. When I say “put on display”, I mean “installed in the middle of nowhere, but where they could be viewed from the highway.” Just over twenty years ago, my friend Jim Conrad included the cows in a short film he did called Mondo Texas, which played to a sold-out crowd at the 1991 Dallas Video Festival. When word got out, the laughter was so extreme that Las Colinas finally put in sidewalks, benches, and trees around the cows so it could claim that the cows were there for a reason other than as a tax break. In 1999, I worked for Sprint in its Las Colinas offices, and the windows of my office space literally looked right over them. (Not that the honey mesquite and park benches helped anything. For about six months of the year, standing outside staring at any stony body with enough thermal mass to radiate heat all night is an insane concept.)

    • Great article, Kathy. So funny that you were nearly kicked out of the garden for splashing around in the pool. They shut the garden down for renovations right after we moved here (1978) so I never got to see the original garden in person.

  2. Uf-duh, that did not look like a fun garden to visit. What was wrong with people in the 1970’s that made them think things like this were ok?!

  3. Mary, The Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden is a favorite haunt of mine when I get into DC. I didn’t realize that it had originally been designed without any vegetation! What an important change. It’s not just that it makes it a cooler, more pleasant place to be on a hot day; I also love the way that the vegetation is used to screen off separate “rooms” at the ends.

  4. I went there for the first time on a field trip with art class in 1977. If it was hot and uncomfortable in the garden, I don’t recall. It was a heady trip as I had rarely seen such art, inside or out.

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