Outdoor Sculpture Movement

While public art is, almost by definition, art by committee, it is a highly successful concept. Interested parties need look no further than New Jersey’s own Grounds For Sculpture, a 42-acre public sculpture park located in Hamilton, NJ.

Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ
Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ

It was founded in 1992 on the site of the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds by J. Seward Johnson to promote an understanding of and appreciation for contemporary sculpture for all people. Visitors to the park can enjoy the outdoor permanent collection, indoor seasonal exhibitions, and learn about contemporary sculpture through a variety of educational programs including workshops for adults and children, artist residencies and lectures, tours for adults, schoolchildren, toddlers, as well as touch tours for the blind. More than 100,000 people visit the Grounds For Sculpture annually.

The collection of outdoor sculpture in New York City has bdeen called the “greatest outdoor public art museum” in the United States of America. With works from such great sculptors as Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Daniel Chester French and John Quincy Adams Ward, over 300 sculptures are found on the streets and in parks across the New York metropolitan area.

And, of course, Florence, Italy has similarly been called an outdoor museum for even better reason. Commentators have noted that “Its streets are full of so much sculpture and architecture that one need not enter a museum to see many works of great artistic significance.”

The Loggia dei Lanzi, with the Medici lions outside Florence’s city hall.
The Loggia dei Lanzi, with the Medici lions outside Florence’s city hall.

The city’s finest collection of outdoor sculpture is found outside the Palazzo Vecchio, Florence’s city hall. An impressive array stands next to the Palazzo, in the Loggia dei Lanzi, built in the late 14th century to house public ceremonies. While many of Florence’s treasures are from the Renaissance, these sculptures in the loggia are from various periods.

But it is not only great cities such as Florence and New York that are acclaimed for their outdoor sculpture.

Eleven miles south of Detroit, the City of Wyandotte, MI (Pop: 25,883; Area 7 sq. miles; HH: 10,991) has a vast array of monuments and sculpture throughout the city, both new and old. Local leaders say “these public works of art help to link our downtown areas and beautify our town.”

In fact, the outdoor sculpture movement in the United States is so significant and widespread that it is supported by an organization created specifically for that purpose, Save Outdoor Sculpture! (SOS!), a private/public initiative to help communities and local groups of all ages and interests preserve their sculptural legacy for the next century.

 

The Gwen Frostic Sculpture was given to the City of Wyandotte by Western Michigan University. Frostic was an artist, poet, philosopher, naturalist, motivational speaker, member of  the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and holder of five honorary degrees.
The Gwen Frostic Sculpture was given to the City of Wyandotte by Western Michigan University. Frostic was an artist, poet, philosopher, naturalist, motivational speaker, member of the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame and holder of five honorary degrees.

SOS says “it’s an American tradition to decorate our towns and cities with outdoor sculpture, to raise monuments to remember those who came before us, to declare our values and our creative spirit. Time and progress, nature and vandals have taken their toll on America’s outdoor sculpture. Poisons, unknown a century ago now erode our monuments.

Save Outdoor Sculpture! is a catalyst to save our sculptural heritage. In Phase I of the program, 6,000 volunteers reported 30,000 publicly accessible outdoor sculptures to the Smithsonian Institution’s Art Inventories database. Of that total, 45 percent were determined to be in critical need of attention, with nine percent of those requiring urgent treatment to survive the coming century.

In Phase II of the program, called SOS!2000, those volunteers and other citizens, students through seniors, are working to preserve 10,000 sculptures and monuments as a gift for the next century. SOS!2000 is a multi-faceted approach to increase preservation and appreciation of historical and contemporary public sculpture. Education about the necessity of maintenance is a common message throughout Phase II.