Art in the Park

At the Art Institute of Chicago's Sculpture Garden

Question: What could be better than sh*t-hot sculpture in a beautiful park or garden?

Answer: Not much.

At least not in the humble opinion of your correspondent. And as proof I tender into evidence, Your Honour, Exhibit A, the Sculpture Garden at the Art Institute of Chicago.

There are two gardens at the Art Institute, the one to the south designed by the remarkable landscape architect Dan Kiley, and the one to the north by the equally influential Laurie Olin.

It’s separated from the Art Institute’s be-columned façade by some fruity balustrades and planted urns, a get-up that sits surprisingly comfortably beside its more contemporary neighbour. 

Olin’s sculpture garden was completed in 1960 and it’s a deceptively simple space. A generous path surrounds a central garden, half of which is open lawn, with the other half given over to a lush floral display.

Gorgeous as the plants are, they struggle to compete with the art. Cubi VII is a stainless steel work by David Smith, installed here in 1963.

The showstopper work is Flying Dragon by Alexander Calder. The painted steel sculpture landed amongst the flowers in 1975, and good luck to you if you think you’ll be able to visit without taking about a thousand photos.

Very simple stone benches line two sides, and they’re detailed so you can face into or away from the path.

The north of the garden is a linear space, with trees lining a soft path.

A Henry Moore bronze, Large Interior Form, juts its hip and tips its head at the end of the way.

A tall wall terminates the eastern end, providing a backdrop for Ulrich Ruckriem’s untitled work, a slab of infinitely textured and coloured granite.

The sculpture garden changes character with the weather. An overcast day clears the crowds, leaving the green garden pulsing with chlorophyll in front of the pale Art Institute building and the pale sky.

When the sun comes out so do the people, flocking to the lawn, and seeking out the quiet seats, the sunny spots, and the shade.

It’s a beautiful thing.