New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden should be on your must-see list

Nothing about what first comes to mind when most people think of visiting the Big Easy is found at the New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden.

No beads. No booze. No boisterous.

Instead, you’ll find quiet, contemplative spaces. A serene, natural environment. Sculpture by Renoir, Rodin, Rene Magritte and Roy Lichtenstein.

Yes, that is New Orleans too. The New Orleans you’ll discover at the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

What to see at New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Garden

Six additional acres featuring 26 large-scale sculptures were added to the existing five-acre, 60-plus piece sculpture garden which features one of Robert Indiana’s instantly recognizable LOVE sculptures. Opened to the public on May 15, 2019 in City Park, five miles from the French Quarter, the two halves of the garden form butterfly wings off of NOMA.

Set within the sculpture garden, a 5,000 square foot indoor sculpture pavilion houses Maya Lin’s (designer of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.) Folding the Mississippi (1938), 2019. Purposefully designed for the space it occupies, Lin’s installation features hundreds of aqua-colored marbles tracing the route of the nearby Mississippi River and its tributaries.

Maya Lin, Folding the Mississippi (1938), 2019. Gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff.
Maya Lin, Folding the Mississippi (1938), 2019. Industrial marbles. Gift of Sydney and Walda Besthoff. CHADD SCOTT

The pavilion offers exhibition space for indoor sculpture and other works in NOMA’s collection that complement the garden’s outdoor installations and, importantly, air conditioning if you choose to visit during Louisiana’s steamy summer months.

Artwork in the expanded sculpture garden competes for attention with the ground’s regal live oak trees. It’s a friendly competition with each bringing out the best in the other. The grandiose, centuries-old oaks spread their massive, Spanish-moss-covered branches widely while colorful, expressive, contemporary sculpture enlivens the spaces below.

Sculpture paired with conservation

Both are further set off by native plantings in a landscape designed to reflect the distinctive character of natural Louisiana. You won’t find any angular, manicured, box row hedges here. Native grasses, shrubs, palmettos and cypress trees surround a lagoon, water being a primary emphasis of the entire space.

No force exerts more influence on New Orleans than the that of water. NOMA’s expanded sculpture garden seeks balance with the water that has variously advanced and obliterated New Orleans throughout the three centuries since it was founded by the French in 1718.

Environmental impact was placed at the forefront of planning.

The lagoon was dredged and revitalized to capture, clean and aerate water as a healthy and sustainable resource. Reshaping and stabilizing the lagoon shoreline increased water capacity, improves water quality and reduces loads on the municipal drainage system. An integrated water management strategy diverts storm water pipes to capture sediments before reaching the lagoon and introduces emergent vegetation to mitigate pollutants. Set within the garden, a weir allows for changes in water level to address flooding potential and re-oxygenate the system as it flows through the 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

That science will be difficult to see on your visit. Easy to see and a must to experience is the 280-foot canal link bridge, the first of its kind in the United States, connecting the new garden with the old. The bridge–which will appear to you more like a culvert–dips into the lagoon, taking visitors down to the waterline, creating the unique sensation of walking through water.

If you’re fortunate, a duck will zoom past flying inches above the water and at your eye level completely disorienting you from any visual or physical memory you can recall.

Visiting the Sculpture Garden

The sculpture garden is located at One Collins Diboll Circle, City Park, New Orleans, LA 70124, adjacent to the Museum of Art in City Park.

The New Orleans Museum of Art website has updated hours and an events schedule for the sculpture garden. Adult tickets are $5 with seniors, college students and military $3. Visitors under 19 are free.

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