Location // St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Length of stay // 1 week
Travel companions // Work colleagues
Purpose of trip // Work – for NAFSA, an international education conference
Not far from the muddy flow of the great Mississippi River and the famous Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, Missouri, is a lovely serene patch of green.
It is home to a 4-year-old quirky urban sculpture park, Citygarden.
Though the sculpture of the chrysanthemum, Samarkand (in the photo above) was partly inspired by the gates of Jerusalem, there are no gates or fences surrounding Citygarden. It feels very welcoming and accessible, stretching over two city blocks – about three acres of land.
In the city for a work trip, there wasn’t too much time to explore, but Citygarden was a short walk from our hotel and I can’t resist an eccentric outdoor space or a stroll through the great outdoors in the centre of a traffic-filled city.
Londoner Julian Opie, who obviously knows what it’s like to need an escape from city traffic, created the LED sculpture above, of a couple in constant forward motion. It was inspired by little LED horses he saw galloping with the taxi meters in South Korea and bright signs of Tokyo.
Part of a revival plan for the area, Citygarden features the work of 24 international artists as well as a host of plants, trees and fountains.
There’s an app that takes you on a tour of the garden, telling the story behind each piece of art and the background of each artist.
It’s narrated by a wide variety of people ranging from the previous mayor of St. Louis to a St. Louis Cardinal baseball player to an opera singer and the founder of the Build-a-Bear workshops.
I’ll share the stories of the artists and work featured in the photos I took throughout this post. Erwin Wurm, who created Big Suit (above), lives and works in Vienna, Austria and plays with the way we perceive mass and space. In its construction, this piece is meant to represent vulnerability, the relationship between the inner and outer self and the external forces that play to our perceptions. That’s a big challenge to live up to!
It was a beautiful sunny day on the morning I had a few hours to take a stroll. A few other people were walking around taking photos and a couple were sitting on a low wall talking quietly but I had the place more or less to myself.
This piece above is called The Door of Return by Japanese artist Kan Yasuda. It’s more than 16 feet high and 10 feet wide. The orb and pillars are two of his signature features, one or the other of which he incorporates into the majority of his sculptures.
Then we have the elegant Zenit, a piece by Italian artist Mimmo Paladino. It’s a symbol of vitality, strength, endurance and victory. He calls his work “nomadic”.
This dodecahedron on top of the horse isn’t meant to represent the rider and most likely comes from Mimmo’s fascination with mathematics, but beyond that, he gives no indication of its meaning. It’s pretty random, but intriguing nonetheless.
Next we have the playful cartoon-like rabbits, which everyone seems to love. They’re by Dutch artist Tom Claassen who works with all sorts of materials from sand to rubber to logs with the bark left on them. These guys are cast in bronze and painted white so they look soft, but in reality they are far from it.
Born in Connecticut to Quaker parents, sculptor Donald Baechler now lives in New York City. His scarecrow above (in its stance and placement) was intended to reference the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil which inspired the work.
One of my favourite pieces in the garden, above and below are photographs of La Riviere by late French artist Artistide Maillol. It is meant to be the personification of moving water.
There are other casts of the same sculpture at MOMA in New York City and Jardin du Carrousel in Paris to name a few.
One of few female artists in the group, Laura Ford’s Bird in the photo above comes from an alternative world of fantasy, mythology and children’s books. She says her sculptures are quite self absorbed. They are not “interested” in being looked at as pieces of art.
Lastly, we have the loveable Pinocchio (above and below) by American artist Jim Dine, whose childhood playing in his parents hardware store has continually been an influence in his work. Pinocchio was a childhood love of the artist that has stuck with him through the present day.
If you look up from the sculptures at the skyline, you remember you are surrounded by tall concrete buildings, that you are standing in the middle of downtown St. Louis. The park feels nearly separate from the architecture that rises up beyond it, though sometimes the two will join.
While I wouldn’t make a long journey to St. Louis specifically for the garden, it’s definitely a great place to spend a bit of time if you’re in the city!