February 23rd, 2010

Cullen Sculpture Garden: Always in Full Bloom

In 5 Words: Secret, Amorous, HappyHappy, Escape, Graceful

Imagine having your own secret garden you could escape to whenever the day in the big city was too fast-paced or exciting for you. I found mine last week, by accident, when I was exploring the grounds beyond the building that is the Glassell School. I wandered out through the back doors of the School and was greeted by Joan Miro’s bronze Oiseau. The statue, standing taller than me, looked more like a character out of Alice in Wonderland and less like any feathered creature I had seen before.


How I had missed the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden before, I will never know. It’s been hiding here, quite literally under my nose for years. I suppose that’s the source of it’s charm. There is such a high concentration of culture in the Museum District that it’s quite easy to overlook something… Even if it’s the venue you’ve been hoping to find.

As I continued further down the steps and through an opening in one of the white walls located throughout the garden, I glimpsed the deep copper tones of the towering structure of corten steel that is Benar Venet’s Vertical Arc, 2008. All curves and lines, I yearned for one sweet thrill on a roller coaster, even if it meant standing in a hundred person line.


As the arches drew me to the left side of the garden, I came upon a steel square sculpture, five feet by five feet, sitting on a pole with squiggly designs that created crevices throughout the structure. It took me three visits to realize that the sculpture spins on the pole when the wind catches it. The name chosen by the artist, Pietro Consagra, for the piece, Conversation with the Wind, 1962, made such beautiful sense. I commented to Joseph West, my impromptu photographer for the day, that I really wanted to grab an end and run in circles. Thankfully, he discouraged me from taking any action that might have gotten us escorted from the premises and cut short our adventure.


The bright reds and greens of unidentifiable objects drew me to the edge of the garden furthest from the entrance and I am met by hundreds of plastic colanders fastened together to create a tiny maze. In the colanders that were right side up lay fall leaves of different hues, brown and yellow and red. The light dancing through the holes in the colanders created such a striking marbled effect that I wandered through the maze over and over again, just so I could observe from all sides. The maze, a creation of Korean pop artist Choi Jung Hua, was aptly named HappyHappy.


The proximity of this work to Henri Matisse’s bronze sculptures of women’s backs created between 1909 and 1930, entitled Back I, II, III, IV, was such a beautiful marriage of East and West, old and new. The curves Matisse is so well known for seem to be reiterated in the curves of the colanders. Being placed so close together, the sculpture and installation seem to mirror each other.

Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss, 1886 is the oldest sculpture in the garden and, perhaps that is the reason it’s my favourite. Found in the central part of the garden and cast in bronze with a black patina, it depicts two lovers embraced in, you guessed it, a kiss. The lovers are naked and locked in an amorous hold that renders them oblivious to all observers. The sculpture is meant to be viewed from all sides and Rodin put excruciatingly minute detail in depicting the buttocks and the muscular lines in the back of the male. The deep black patina of the statue distracts the viewer’s eye just enough that one can easily ignore the sculpture directly next to it, or atleast I did until my third visit.


Linda Ridgway’s The Dance, 2000 resembles tangled up tree branches pinned to the white wall that supports the sculpture. The title may lend to the illusion that the branches are dancing against the wall, perhaps in a waltz or something equally romantic, like a foxtrot. The most peculiar aspect of the sculpture is that one, long branch, that could be seen as the arm of the sculpture, extends the length of the wall as though it has gracefully bowed out from the dance or, perhaps, it is the main attraction and we are supposed to observe the arm as it dances away from the circle.

Joseph and I ended the day lying on the lush green grass of a small hill found towards the back of the garden and I started to imagine all the picnics I will enjoy here when the weather warms. As I looked up to the sky that hid between the canopy of trees, I could almost hear the swaying of the bamboo, or, perhaps, I was merely overhearing Consagra’s conversations with the wind.


A special thanks to Joseph West for allowing us to use his photographs.
Take some time to check out his website and blog.

— Afrodet


laanba — Tuesday, February 23, 2010 6:03 pm

Lovely write up of one of my favorite places and fantastic photos. I’m seriously impressed with Joseph’s work.

I love the sculpture garden and it is never crowded when I go. I always seem to end up there when I need some replenishment of the soul and the garden always delivers.

I can’t think of a better place to have a picnic, although I don’t know what the MFAH security guards would think of that.

Joel Luks — Friday, April 2, 2010 5:49 pm

Rodin’s The Kiss has not been in the garden for a while. A Giacometti proudly stood in its place. After the sale of a similar work at Sotheby’s Auction House for a record 104 Million, it was placed inside the MFAH and days later, the Rodin appeared. I am glad. The Kiss is much more appealing subject.

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