Sculpture Blossoms in a New Garden on the Mall

The National Gallery of Art has given the people a park for all seasons and all ages

"Crowds of sightseers are coming upon a magical garden on the National Mall these days, a garden that reflects the power and beauty and tragedy and laughter and illusion of art," writes Smithsonian contributor Stanley Meisler. "Their find is the long-awaited National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, an oasis among some of the best-known museums and monuments in America."

After languishing for more than 30 years, the National Gallery of Art's plans for a 20th-century sculpture garden finally got under way earlier this decade when the museum received a major donation from the Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation that covered most of the cost of construction and the purchase of eight sculptures. Now the 6.1-acre park, which opened May 23, is playing host to a broad audience of admirers of modern sculpture.

Marla Prather, the gallery's curator of 20th-century art and a key member of the team that selected the garden's 17 pieces (an 18th, by American artist Frank Stella, is due this fall), describes them as "some of the greatest sculptures of the century."

Philadelphia landscape architect Laurie D. Olin was tapped to design the garden, which the gallery wanted to be accessible and friendly. Now visitors dangle their feet in the graceful fountain, and parents snap pictures of their children mugging on or against such pieces as Roy Lichtenstein's illusionistic House I or Barry Flanagan's amusing Thinker on a Rock, which casts a hare in the role of Auguste Rodin's iconic thoughtful man. The garden, which also features pieces by such artists as Louise Bourgeois, Magdalena Abakanowicz, Joan Miró, David Smith and Alexander Calder, has helped transform the National Mall into a paradise of monumental 20th-century sculpture.

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