New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden celebrates 20th anniversary in 2024

The New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden is one of my favorite art spaces in America. I first visited in 2019 and love how the garden combines sculpture with a native, natural setting.

The New Orleans Museum of Art sculpture garden, formally titled the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, presents a year-long celebration of its 20th anniversary. The occasion will be marked with new permanent additions to the nearly 100 works of art installed in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, programmatic offerings highlighting the natural and artistic beauty of the garden.

Consistently named one of the top sculpture gardens in the country, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden highlights world-class art from the 19th century to the present day in a landscape unique to South Louisiana. True to Sydney and Walda Besthoff’s vision for offering a space for New Orleanians to enjoy and experience public sculpture from artists around the world, NOMA’s Besthoff Sculpture Garden is free and open to the public seven days a week

“The Besthoff Sculpture Garden perfectly expresses the museum’s mission to provide a welcoming space where visitors of all backgrounds can connect with works created by artists from around the world,” Susan M. Taylor, The Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of NOMA, said. “This anniversary offers an extraordinary opportunity to reflect on the garden’s first twenty years and envision its future as a defining art experience in our city and a destination for visitors from near and far.”

New Orleans Besthoff Sculpture Garden

Katharina Fritsch, Schädel (Skull) 2017 with New Orleans Museum of Art in background. Painted bronze.
Katharina Fritsch, Schädel (Skull) 2017 with New Orleans Museum of Art in background. Painted bronze. Gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff, 2018-63. CHADD SCOTT

The Besthoff Sculpture Garden opened in November 2003 with guidance and support from its namesake patrons: Walda Besthoff and the late Sydney J. Besthoff III. A successful New Orleans business executive and philanthropist, Sydney Besthoff was first appointed to NOMA’s Board of Trustees in 1992, and soon after, he began conversations with Director Emeritus E. John Bullard about the possibility of what was to become the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Since its opening, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden has become a constant place of respite for local visitors and a must-see destination for tourists from around the world. In 2022, the Besthoff Sculpture Garden was named the top sculpture park in the country in USA Today’s 10Best Readers’ Choice poll. The New York Times featured the Besthoff Sculpture Garden in its latest 36 Hours in New Orleans travel itinerary, and the sculpture garden has been included in recent features from “Condé Nast Traveler,” “Garden & Gun,” and “Coveteur,” among many other publications.

Anniversary Events

The museum kicked off the year of festivities with a free family day in December 2023 that attracted over 675 visitors. The daylong program featured a performance by the Roots of Music’s Marching Crusaders, activations by Krewe des Fleurs, music from DJ Kuti, food from Southern’s Food Truck, and art-inspired activities.

This year, the museum will add two major works to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. In 2024, NOMA will unveil a newly commissioned sculpture by world-renowned artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset. The work, titled Maybe (Not), takes the form of a 18-foot-tall diving board rising from the shore of the lagoon in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Elmgreen & Dragset are known for their wry takes on social and cultural issues, including Prada Marfa, 2005, which resembles a forever-closed Prada boutique located in the middle of the west Texan desert. In the past two years, the artists opened important exhibitions at Centre-Pompidou Metz and Fondazione Prada, Milan, and the artists have completed major commissions in cities around the world.

The artists often return to the motifs of swimming pools and diving boards as both a critique on the decline of civic spaces where people meet, learn, play, and interact and as an acknowledgment of public pools as places where strangers are more exposed and vulnerable to one another.

The museum will also add a new work from artist Sarah Sze’s Fallen Sky series to the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. Sze represented the United States at the Venice Biennale in 2013, and her work at NOMA will be a 12-foot-wide spherical cavity embedded into the landscape of the garden. Individual pieces are sheathed in mirrored stainless steel and will reflect its surroundings into a shimmering surface.

Sze’s work was the subject of a major 2023 survey at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, and the exhibition was recently highlighted in the New York Times’s “Best Art of 2023” list by co-chief art critics Roberta Smith and Holland Cotter. 

Made possible by generous funding from Walda Besthoff, these two works will be the latest in a series of recent acquisitions and installations—including works by Anselm Kiefer, Wangechi Mutu, and Ugo Rondinone—following the major 2019 expansion of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

In fall 2024, the museum will present a free public festival celebrating the impact and future of one of New Orleans’s favorite spaces. Additionally, museum programming throughout the year will draw connections between the Besthoff Sculpture Garden and the rest of the museum’s permanent collection, special exhibitions, and educational initiatives.

Wangechi Mutu

Detail: Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan- American, b. Nairobi 1972), Crocodylus , 2020. Bronze, Gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff, 2021.33
Detail: Wangechi Mutu (Kenyan- American, b. Nairobi 1972), Crocodylus , 2020. Bronze, Gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff, 2021.33

On January 31, NOMA opens the highly anticipated exhibition Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined, a major retrospective by the Kenyan–American artist who has two works permanently sited in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden. For the first time, an exhibition at the museum will include interventions in the garden as part of the presentation. 

Wangechi Mutu: Intertwined will include the temporary outdoor installation of Mutu’s bronze sculpture In Two Canoe and a special gallery of works in the indoor pavilion located within the garden.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Mutu will give a presentation about her work at the museum on Wednesday, April 3, kicking off a series of talks in 2024 by artists featured in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

In fall 2024, Monacelli will publish a new catalogue focusing on the history of the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA and its outstanding collection. An imprint of Phaidon, Monacelli has been a leading publisher of illustrated books for twenty-five years and has challenged the conventions of publishing to produce provocative, inspiring, and essential titles on architecture, visual art, interior design, landscape architecture, photography, and applied arts.

About the New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden

A view down the canal link bridge connecting the old and new sections of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. CHADD SCOTT
A view down the canal link bridge connecting the old and new sections of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. CHADD SCOTT

NOMA’s 12-acre Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden expands visitors’ experiences of the museum with one of the most notable sculpture gardens in the country. The Besthoff Sculpture Garden, free and open to the public seven days a week, has nearly 100 sculptures and outdoor works of art situated in a unique landscape featuring Spanish moss-laden live oaks and a sinuous lagoon surrounded by an expansive ecosystem of native plants. 

The works in the garden range from the 19th to the 21st centuries, with pieces by Auguste Rodin, Louise Bourgeois, Ida Kohlmeyer, Claes Oldenburg, Larry Bell, Sean Scully, Fred Wilson, Maya Lin, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Teresita Fernández, Ugo Rondinone, Hank Willis Thomas, and many others. 

The Besthoff Sculpture Garden features contemporary design elements—including a sculpture pavilion, an amphitheater, and an architecturally significant canal link bridge connecting the garden’s original 2003 footprint with a 2019 expansion. Its water management practices support the health and resiliency of New Orleans City Park and the surrounding environment.

Throughout the year, NOMA hosts outdoor programs in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden including festivals, performances, wellness classes, tours, and more.

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