High art, cool fountains: St. Louis has new sculpture garden that’s just blocks from Arch

By Betsy Taylor, AP
Monday, July 13, 2009

St. Louis has new urban sculpture garden

ST. LOUIS — A new sculpture garden in downtown St. Louis is trying to give a little something to everyone, offering a mixture of highbrow art, quiet spaces for reflection and whimsical spray fountains where visitors can cool off.

The park, called Citygarden, combines two dozen sculptures on three acres of land, from a giant bronze head resting on its side by Igor Mitoraj to animated figures walking across electronic screens by Julian Opie. Citygarden opened July 1.

“The challenge and the opportunity was not just to make a sculpture garden, but a place for the public,” said Warren Byrd with the architectural design firm Nelson Byrd Woltz of Charlottesville, Va.

He designed the park so grand sculptures sit on big lawns, while other sections provide little pockets of space to serve as quieter, more intimate areas.

The sculpture garden is on city-owned land, but it was funded with roughly $30 million from the nonprofit Gateway Foundation, which supports outdoor art and urban design. The foundation will retain ownership of the sculptures, and is paying upkeep costs except water and electricity.

“It will take its place among the great public spaces here in St. Louis and in this country,” said St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

Slay used his cell phone at the opening ceremony to dial a control room at the park, asking workers to turn on the water features and take down construction barriers.

“Gentlemen, it’s time to start the fountains, and to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, tear down the fences,” he said. The park is blocks from the Gateway Arch, Busch Stadium and the convention center, and will be free to visit.

Cell phones will come in handy at the park. Citygarden also has an audio tour, which people can access by calling 314-802-9571. St. Louis leaders from Hall of Fame Cardinal Ozzie Smith to St. Louis Symphony Music Director David Robertson were asked to contribute recordings. Park visitors can punch in a number on their phone that corresponds to each sculpture to hear more about it.

Byrd said the designers responded to the natural features of the region, particularly its rivers, when determining how to lay out the park.

“The garden looks this way because it’s in St. Louis. There’s nothing off the shelf about it,” he said.

The park includes a limestone arc wall, which curves along the northern side of the park and a low, more meandering wall that snakes along the south. It has pathways, terraces and plazas. A new cafe is also opening where diners will have a view of a waterfall spilling from the limestone and a pool surrounding Aristide Maillol’s reclining nude sculpture “La Riviere.”

Raymond Furgason was one of the first visitors to the park. The downtown resident and owner of a nearby business, the Bubba Tea Cafe, strolled through the grounds, coffee in hand, with his 2-year-old son Jadyn, who rode along on a tricycle.

“I think it brings a nice sense of style to downtown,” he said. “It makes it feel good, homey, real comfortable.”

If You Go…

CITYGARDEN: www.citygardenstl.org/. New sculpture garden located in St. Louis between Eighth and Tenth, and Chestnut and Market streets. The garden is part of the Gateway Mall, a mile-long stretch of land that is framed by the Gateway Arch to the east.

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