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New sculpture garden caps 15 years of renovations at St. Louis Art Museum

The 15 year-long renovation of the St. Louis Art Museum has finally reached completion. Museum director Brent Benjamin said he hopes the completed sculpture garden will be as well received as the rest of the museum’s changes.

“The most gratifying part is the response of the public to the galleries, of course, starting almost two years ago, and in 10 days we hope they’ll have the same response to this site,” said Benjamin.

The museum’s transformation, which began at the turn of the millennium, comes to a close with the garden’s official opening June 26.  The park’s construction cost $2.5 million and covered landscaping, planting, pipe and cable work below the garden and installation of the sculptures. The space will be maintained by a $2 million endowment left by Barbara B. Taylor and Andrew C. Taylor as part of a giftthey made in December 2014. The garden will be named after their granddaughter, Grace Taylor Broughton.

Carolyn Schmidt, the museum's deputy director of administration and operations, oversaw the project’s completion.

“We’re working not with the Chipperfield design, not with the Desvigne design, but one museum design that comes together for the wonderful experience of art in a public park,” said Schmidt.

Landscape architect Michel Desvigne's original sketch of new sculpture garden
Credit Courtesy of The Saint Louis Art Museum
Landscape architect Michel Desvigne's original sketch of SLAM's new sculpture garden

Chipperfield designed the museum’s East Building that opened in 2013. Landscape architect Michel Desvigne designed the garden space with the intention that it reflect the landscape of surrounding Forest Park and fill in a lack of “middle-ground” foliage in the rest of the park.

The garden is arranged in geometric blocks, which slowly become less rigid as a viewer moves away from the building. For Jeanette Fausz, the museum’s director of collections, the garden syncs with the past 15 years of work.

“Part of the expansion project and really the creation of this new building was to provide more space for viewing art, and the outdoor sculpture garden really follows that idea,” said Fausz.

Fun Facts about select works:

  • Confluence, Nagare Masayuki: This work, acquired in 1964, has been in storage almost since acquisition.  The piece, which weighs roughly 4,000 pounds, was installed by crane, using straps to set the work in place. To get the straps out from underneath, the sculpture was placed on a bed of ice that allowed workers to remove the straps. When the ice melted, stone settled into place.
  • Two Open Triangles Up Gyratory II, George Rickey: Acquired in 1984, this work was never previously displayed at the museum. Installation was interrupted at one point during a thunderstorm because it posed the risk of attracting lightning.
  • Hercules and the Hydra, Mathias Gasteiger: It weighs almost 1,800 pounds and is almost 8 feet tall. Since 2009 the piece has been in storage but was returned to the museum via flatbed truck on Interstate 170. That, said Fauz, drew some looks from passing motorists.