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New sculptures prove instant attractions at the reopened Citygarden in St. Louis

A Black dad takes a picture of his young toddler daughter next to flamingo sculptures.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Kofi Oyirifi, 34, of Maryland Heights, takes a photo of his daughter Naomi, 2, on May 25 during the Citygarden expansion grand opening in downtown St. Louis.

All three acres of Citygarden are open again to the park’s customary mix of downtown St. Louis office workers, strolling tourists, art lovers of all sorts and folks just looking for a shady place to sit.

Temporary fencing had blocked off large sections since October, when workers began installing four new sculptures — three that are new to Citygarden and another that proved a popular guest star during a temporary visit and is now permanently installed. They join 25 other sculptures.

“The cool thing about where we are now is — this used to be Ninth Street,” landscape architect Michelle Ohle said on a recent morning, as she stood by the newly installed sculptures near the center of Citygarden. Ohle worked on the renovation project.

The park’s newly added section bridges Citygarden’s eastern and western halves, which had been divided by Ninth Street since the Gateway Foundation built and opened the sculpture park in 2009.

“Now it feels complete,” said Gateway Foundation Executive Director Heather Sweeney.

Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

The downtown St. Louis sculpture park stretches two blocks along Market Street, from Kiener Plaza toward the monumental Richard Serra sculpture that has sat in front of St. Louis Municipal Court since 1982. Virginia-based Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects designed Citygarden.

Some early critics of the sculpture park argued the prime real estate within the Gateway Mall would be better suited to housing or retail. Owners of Burger 809 on Cherokee Street announced they’d open a location there in April; their plans are delayed but intact.

With the 2022 opening of nearby CityPark, home of St. Louis City SC soccer club, Citygarden stands as a key link in a freshly extended Gateway Mall. The strip of green spaces and key municipal buildings along Market Street creates a visually striking effect showcasing city landmarks and shows the urban core’s potential, according to some planners. (The soccer stadium stands on land that had been part of Mill Creek Valley, a predominately Black neighborhood and city cultural hub that St. Louis officials and developers razed beginning in the late 1950s while leaving large swaths undeveloped.)

Sweeney declined to say how much the Gateway Foundation spent on the Citygarden renovation. A St. Louis Business Journal report from 2009 states the nonprofit spent $30 million to install it. The Gateway Foundation continues to fund ongoing maintenance and private security at the park, which closes to visitors at night.

Citygarden offers a good view of another Gateway Foundation project: the LED lighting that illuminates the Gateway Arch.

A young girl hangs on a hair pick sculpture.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Pedestrians check out the Citygarden expansion grand opening in downtown St. Louis.

New art, old rabbits

The newly installed sculptures are “White Ghost” by Yoshitomore Nara, a towering statue made of glossy white fiberglass of an uncanny figure with a combination of human and canine features; “Mechanical Planet” by Jan Kaláb, made of several colorful spheres stacked atop each other; and “All Power to All People” by Hank Willis Thomas, an 8-foot-tall Afro pick made of shiny, reflective aluminum with a fist atop its handle.

“MOONRISE.east.may” by Ugo Rondinone, a playful bust of a friendly-looking but misshapen head, has returned permanently to Citygarden after proving a popular attraction for children when it was added temporarily as part of the site’s 10th anniversary in 2019.

New plantings of white penstemon and other flowers that thrive in direct sunlight complement the shade-loving flowers found elsewhere in the park. (These new plants also share another important quality for survival in Citygarden: resistance to a hungry downtown rabbit population.)

“Every time you come to visit Citygarden, you'll see something else is blooming. That's intentional,” said Ohle. “It really does play on the ‘garden’ aspects of Citygarden. It's meant to be a respite from the urban environment, and different than Kiener Plaza or Soldiers Memorial or any of the other plazas downtown. This is a garden space.”

(L-R) Craig Mayfield, 45, McKinley Heights; Tracy Verner, 48, McKinley Heights; Liz Dischert, 46, Southwest; Donn Dischert 45, Southwest, look at their artists designed merchandise giveaways from the Citygarden Expansion Grand Opening in downtown St. Louis on May 25, 2024, showcased three new sculptures by internationally acclaimed artists. The event featured live music by DJ Nune is Lamar Harris, food and drinks from Pour Decisions, Scoops of Joy Rainbow Ice Cream Cones, and Central State Sandwiches. Attendees enjoyed giveaways, flocks of flamingos, and a vibrant atmosphere.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Craig Mayfield, 45; Tracy Verner, 48, both of McKinley Heights; and Liz Dischert, 46, and Donn Dischert, 45, both of Southwest, look at their giveaways from the Citygarden expansion grand opening.

Other additions to the park include lighting and a hardwood serpentine bench.

On a weekday afternoon this week, Citygarden visitors included families with young children, meandering couples and professionals seemingly headed home.

“I think the city needs more gathering points, you know? And I think this is a perfect sort of iteration of that,” said Christy Fox, who led the Gateway Foundation when it opened Citygarden.

She visited for a grand reopening party on a recent Saturday morning, as children played in water jets and visitors took turns knocking on the fiberglass exterior of the already popular “White Ghost.”

“I’m just thrilled to see everybody here, too,” Fox said. “It’s become a magnet — a significant downtown magnet.”

(Maps are Mapbox, OpenStreetMaps. Improve this map.)

Corrections: A photo caption incorrectly identified Kofi Oyirifi's age. He is 34.

Jeremy is the arts & culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.