Tag Archives: Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden

Summer in the BMA gardens

June 21 marks the first official day of summer, and a good time to explore the BMA’s Sculpture Gardens. Here in the Archives, the Photograph Collection holds images of many outdoor BMA events, from groundbreaking ceremonies for the Museum’s John Russell Pope building to children’s tours to the 1998 Caribbean Festival complete with steel drum band.

Maybe it’s the sunshine and trees, but as I’ve archived photos of these events I’ve noticed that people seem a little more at ease, and a little more willing to participate in activities than they might be in a traditional gallery setting. These two East Garden events from the early 1970s embody the spirit of the time:

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Summerlight, an “environmental form” from the artist Robert Harding. May 23, 1970.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Young participant in an outdoor sculpture event. August 12, 1972.

Meanwhile, Janet and Alan Wurtzburger, at that time already major BMA donors of African and Pacific Islands art, were amassing a collection of sculpture at their Baltimore County estate, Timberlane. This collection was realized in the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden, which opened thirty-five years ago this month.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Guests interact with the sculptures at the Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden dedication. June 7, 1980.

Eight years later, in June of 1988, the Ryda and Robert H. Levi Sculpture Garden opened to the public. The garden showcases works from the second half of the 20th century, and as BMA Senior Registrar Melanie Harwood has blogged, the installation of large-scale sculptures has often provided quite the challenge for BMA staff. Thankfully, the rest of us are free to simply enjoy the gardens, whether on a reflective solo stroll or during one of the BMA’s many festive events, such as the Jazz in the Sculpture Garden summer concerts, which have been held since the 1980s.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

Jazz in the Sculpture Garden audience, June 30, 1994.

BMA Photographs Collections are being processed through generous support from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission (NHPRC). The BMA Sculpture Gardens are free to the public and open Wednesday-Friday 10am to dusk, and Saturday-Sunday 11am to dusk.

BMA Voices: A sculptural reminder of the cold war.

Isamu Noguchi. Untitled. 1958. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Janet Wurtzburger Collection, BMA 1966.55.22. © 2014 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Isamu Noguchi. Untitled. 1958. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Alan and Janet Wurtzburger Collection, BMA 1966.55.22. © 2014 The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Oliver Shell, Associate Curator of European Painting & Sculpture

Isamu Noguchi’s sculpture Untitled is ideally situated within the fountain of the BMA’s Wurtzburger Sculpture Garden where it creates a visual bridge between the reflective water and the sky. Few, however, know its history prior to coming to the BMA.

Commissioned by the United States government to be installed in a reflecting pool inside the colossal US pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World Exposition, this sculpture is a fascinating artifact of the cold war. Expo 58 was the first international exposition to be held in the atomic era and featured a towering 335 foot, inhabitable, stainless steel model of an iron atom known as the Atomium. The US and Soviet pavilions were provocatively set side by side to present the international public with starkly contrasting displays. Held one year after the launch of the earliest satellite Sputnik (a model of which was featured in the Soviet pavilion) and in the shadow of America’s so called “missile gap,” this Expo became a showcase for a new, sophisticated kind of American cultural politics. Where the Soviets had a gargantuan realist sculpture of Lenin and paintings of him declaiming fiery speeches, the US had a tall, semi-abstract sculpted ear by Alexander Calder that rotated mechanically in the fountain adjoining the pavilion. While this could seem disturbing in the current era of NSA phone hacking, the intention at the time was to underscore the contrast of being talked at versus listened to. The entire approach of the US exhibition has been described as “soft sell” featuring the modern American life-style and relying heavily on art – specifically emphasizing modernist forms and abstraction.

Inside the US pavilion Saul Steinberg created a witty collage mural depicting every-day American scenes. The few surviving installation photographs reveal that the internal reflecting pool was decorated with sculpture by various artists including Mary Callery, and Jose de Rivera. An unidentified water-driven kinetic piece stands in close proximity to Noguchi’s Untitled, the latter relying on light reflecting off of the water to create a constantly fluctuating pattern on the oval structure and the parabolic forms within. This is one of Noguchi’s earliest sculptures made of stainless steel, a material more commonly associated with aviation and military technology but adapted here to purely aesthetic ends. The symbolic message may not have been lost on those attending this cold war Expo.

Mr. Wurtzburger purchased Noguchi’s Untitled directly from the U. S. government in an auction held after the exposition but it was not installed at the BMA until 1980.

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Reproduction, including downloading of ARS licensed works is prohibited by copyright laws and international conventions without the express written permission of Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.