New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sydney and Walda Besthoff
Sculpture Garden opened to the
public on November 23, 2003. Located adjacent to the Museum (NOMA) in historic City
Park, the five acre garden is one of the premier sculpture gardens in America. The garden opens with fifty sculptures by major twentieth-century
European, American, Israeli and Japanese artists.
among the world-class artists whose work is included in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Foundation of modern (Modern Art: General name given to the succession of cutting edge styles in art and architecture which have dominated Western
culture almost throughout the 20th century) and contemporary art (Contemporary Art: Art of this time usually implies that the artist is still alive or
the work was completed within the past twenty-five years). Sculptures from the Besthoff Foundation were
recently moved from their former home on Lee Circle and make up the majority of sculptures in the Sculpture Garden.
The new location amongst the lush backdrop of City Park will be a tremendous addition to the cultural life of
New Orleans and the Gulf South. The garden will be open during
regular museum hours and is free and open to the public.
on a beautifully landscaped site, the garden incorporates an existing landscape of mature trees and lagoons with the addition
of meandering footpaths, pedestrian bridges and new plantings. The garden was designed by the design team of Lee Ledbetter
Architects of New Orleans and Sawyer/Berson Architecture and Landscape Architecture of New York. There is a gated main entrance:
by two pavilions located next to NOMA at Dueling Oaks Drive:
entrances face City Park’s Timkin Center (formerly the Casino) and the Pavilion of
the Two Sister’s at the New Orleans Botanical
care has been made to preserve the beauty of the natural environment in every stage of the Garden’s design. The root
patterns of the live oaks have been preserved in the design of the walkways. A re-configured lagoon bisects the site and creates
two distinct halves: a mature pine and magnolia grove adjacent to the Museum and a more open area of two-hundred year old,
Spanish moss laden live oaks across the lagoon near the New Orleans Botanical Gardens. The lagoon has been reshaped to provide
two basins, each of which contains one sculpture. There is also a small cascading Garden Pool which encourages visitors to
interact with the environment as they carefully make their way over the stepping stones. The pine grove and the oak grove
provide lush settings for the sculptures, creating viewing areas, or “galleries,” within the garden. Visitors
who stroll through the garden will find themselves in awe of the beautiful setting and the incredible collection of modern
of the fifty works on view in the Sculpture Garden
may appear familiar to New Orleanians, as they were originally part of the Besthoff Foundation formerly on view at K&B Plaza on Lee Circle:
nearly three decades Sydney and Walda Besthoff have been collecting modern and contemporary sculpture. Their interest in collecting
began in 1975 with the purchase of an office building in downtown New Orleans
to serve as headquarters for K&B Incorporated, the family-owned retail drug store chain. Located on historic St. Charles Avenue at Lee
Circle, the building was designed in 1960 - 62 by the architectural firm of Skidmore Owings and
Merrill for John Hancock Insurance. For the large plaza surrounding the building, the architects commissioned an eighteen
foot high granite sculptural fountain by Isamu Noguchi. The piece, named The Mississippi, evokes its placement near
the river while the soaring fluted column recalls the sculpture of Robert E. Lee, towering in nearby Lee Circle. Prompted by the acquistion, the Besthoffs began looking for other sculptures.
first piece of contemporary sculpture purchased to accompany Noguchi’s The Mississippi at the K & B Plaza was a kinetic sculpture
by the American artist George Rickey. The son of an engineer and the grandson of a clockmaker, Rickey was fascinated with
knowing how things work. Rickey became intrigued by Alexander Calder’s mobiles and by the combination of order and randomness
implied by kinetic sculpture. Four Open Rectangles Excentric, Square Section is an excellent example of Rickey’s
space-probing pieces in which ordered geometric shapes are set in random motion by the whims of the wind. It was the first
piece of modern sculpture purchased by Mr. Besthoff. A second piece by George Rickey, Four Lines Oblique, also demonstrates
the artist’s interest in mechanics:
This piece is among those presented in the Sydney
and Walda Besthoff
the establishment of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Foundation in 1978, the growth of the collection of twentieth century and
contemporary sculpture began to accelerate, both with large-scale works displayed on the plaza and smaller sculptures on view
throughout the eight-story corporate headquarters. From the beginning the Foundation’s collection has been open for
public viewing. In addition to sculpture, the Besthoff’s have also been avid collectors of American photorealist painting.
1992 discussions began between the Besthoffs, the New Orleans Museum of Art and the City Park Improvement Association which
lead to the creation of a Sculpture Garden
to permanently display the Besthoff Foundation in an expansive natural setting. The Besthoff Foundation donated the majority
of sculptures and the largest gift of construction funds. City
Park provided the five-acre setting adjacent to the Museum. NOMA made
the commitment to raise the necessary funds to constrct the Garden and maintain it in perpetuity, as well as including sculptures
from the permanent collection of the Museum. Funds have been raised by the Museum from over seventy-five donors which include
individuals, foundations, corporations and the State of Louisiana.
The dedication and donations of Sydney and Walda Besthoff working together with NOMA and City Park have resulted in a great collaborative
community effort that will be enjoyed by all generations to come.
of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
at the New Orleans Museum of Art will treat the visitor to a wide variety of works that celebrate the many styles of modern
and contemporary art. The accessible, casual setting will enable residents and tourists, adults and children, art enthusiasts
and new audiences to experience this world-class collection of modern and contemporary sculpture in a naturally inviting landscape.