In Dialogue with the Seasons

Ulf Meyer
7. September 2022
Visualization © Herzog & de Meuron

While Alexander Calder’s mobiles, stabiles and sculptures are among the most recognizable, popular and charming oeuvres in modern American art, few people know how closely related the artist was with his hometown of Philadelphia. Calder Gardens will be erected and planted on Benjamin Franklin Parkway between 21st and 22nd Streets, where it will combine art and nature, both indoors and outdoors. Two prominent European designers were selected to accomplish this Gesamtkunstwerk: Herzog & de Meuron from Basel, Switzerland, and Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf. The Calder Gardens will present works from New York's Calder Foundation.

Visualization © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The building and garden will display Calder’s art in dialogue with the seasons and as "a place for contemplation and reflection" as well as public programming an events, according to today's announcement. The galleries will be illuminated by natural daylight and situated in a flowing landscape. Landscape and architecture will unfold as a progression that moves visitors from the city to a contemplative realm.

Herzog & de Meuron conceptualized their design as carved from the ground rather than built above it. "That space in the making eventually grew into a whole sequence of different galleries and also rather unexpected spaces, niches and gardens," Jacques Herzog explained, "such as the apse and the quasi-galleries or open plan gallery, the sunken or vestige gardens. Every corner and angle, every stair and corridor is a place to put art."

Visualization © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The building will be sheathed in reflective metal that blurs boundaries between material and immaterial. Visitors approach the building along a path that winds through a meadow punctuated by trees. Large windows will frame the geometries of Calder’s artwork and views of the gardens. A Sunken Garden and a Vestige Garden will be visible from within the building through glazing. “Quiet but theatrical”, his design amplifies Calder’s kinetic artworks by affording many vantage points, said Herzog. 

Visualization © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

"I see my gardens as living sculptures where change is constant," Oudolf said. The Dutch landscape designer described his approach this way: "Each plant has a personality that must work with the others. The composition of the garden is variable. The horticultural design serves the works of art. People will take time to stand still and think, to experience these elements together and have an emotion that stays with them long after their visit. It’s not about what you see, but what you sense."

Visualization © Herzog & de Meuron. All artworks by Alexander Calder © 2022 Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

The $70 million budget for Calder Gardens includes an endowment to support operations. Calder Gardens is scheduled to open in 2024.

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