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The new Sculpture Garden opening to the public September 15 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art provides a lively and versatile outdoor setting for the appreciation of art in a variety of forms. Integrating landscape with outdoor exhibition areas, the garden offers an exciting open-air gallery space for changing installations.

The Sculpture Garden occupies a one-acre site built into the slope near the Museum’s West Entrance facing Kelly Drive and bordered by the Azalea Garden. It also doubles as the green roof over the Museum’s 442-car underground parking garage that opened earlier this year, earning praise from the Environmental Protection Agency for its low-impact, environmentally sensitive systems and concept.

“The Sculpture Garden offers exciting possibilities to expand and extend the Museum’s artistic program,” said Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and chief executive officer. “We look forward to the public claiming this new space for its enjoyment. Not only is the garden especially sympathetic to the display of art, it also offers a spectacular vantage point from which to experience some of Philadelphia’s especially beautiful features, including the Schuylkill River, the Waterworks, Lemon Hill, and the green expanse of Fairmount Park.”

The multileveled garden, with its gently contoured terraces, lawns, and meandering paths, offers a sequence of surprises as visitors encounter its five main areas—the Upper Terrace, Fountain Terrace, East Terrace, Upper Lawn and Lower Lawn.

“One of the most exciting features of the new space is its flexibility, enabling us to create the experience of several outdoor galleries at once,” said Carlos Basualdo, The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art. “We can envision inviting artists to create installations or interventions that respond to the spaces and we can explore ways to redefine the connections between interior and exterior display.”

The initial installation in the garden consists of five works of varying scale by Isamu Noguchi (1904-1988). These sculptures, cut from such stone as granite, basalt, and Monazuru, are at once modern and evocative of the natural landscape. “Helix of the Endless” (1985), the tallest work on the site at 15.1 feet tall, combines both granite and basalt to suggest the influence of Constantin Brâncuşi, to whom Noguchi was once apprenticed, and whose works are exceptionally well represented in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The smallest work is “Origin” (1968), a smooth, rounded sculpture created from black granite that stands less than 2 feet tall. All of the works are on loan from the Noguchi Foundation in New York for two years. The installation will be supplemented by additional loans of works by other artists in the near future.

About the Noguchi Sculptures:
To Darkness (1965), Miharu granite, 66 x 70 x 30 inches
This work consists of a black marble piece mounted on a granite base. It is situated on a hill on the Upper Lawn, the highest point in the garden. The hill is adjacent to the glass pavilion from which visitors leave the garage, and is visible from the Museum’s West Entrance.

Dance (1982), Manazuru stone, 82 ½ x 21 x 19 inches
Located also on the Upper Lawn, this roughly column-shaped work is a multi-tonal work carved from Manazuru, a Japanese hard stone renowned for its endurance and beauty. Executed toward the end of his career, “Dance” reflects Noguchi’s belief that carving should follow the potentialities inherent to the stone.

Origin (1968), Black granite, 23 x 30 x 32 inches
Resembling a kind of mountain form rising out of the earth, “Origin” is a low-lying sculpture of black granite that contrasts sharply with the garden grass. It is part of a group of works that Noguchi made while learning to master how to cut stone and how to physically relate it to the spatial environment it occupies.

Helix of the Endless(1985), Aji granite and basalt, 182 x 12 x 12 inches
With its large scale and shapely contours, “Helix of the Endless” alludes to Constantin Brâncuşi’s monumental “Endless Column” in Romania. Extending vertically from the Upper Lawn, “Helix of the Endless” seems to swivel upward. Noguchi employed multiple granite and basalt parts to create this illusion.

Untitled (1986), Basalt, 21 x 39.12 x 39.12 inches
“Untitled” stands apart among Noguchi’s sculptures due to its unique multiplicity of planes and surfaces. The artist’s hand is visible in the smooth, polished surfaces that stand in contrast to the rough ones revealing the grain of the stone and the variation in color as it changes from rust to gray. It is located in the eastern portion of the Upper Lawn.

About Isamu Noguchi
The son of the Japanese poet Yonejiro (Yone) Noguchi and the American writer Leonie Gilmour, Isamu Noguchi developed a rich aesthetic vision that reflected the richness of his dual heritage. As a young artist, Noguchi studied in New York, Paris, London, Beijing and Kyoto. His earliest sculptures were made while studying under Constantin Brâncuşi in the late 1920s in France. Although stone would remain his material of choice, the sculptor also worked in clay, paper, wood, and bronze. He became celebrated as a designer of rock garden landscapes, Akari lanterns, furniture, and stage sets (most notably for the pioneering modern dancer Martha Graham). Noguchi established studios in United States and Japan and regularly worked in Italy. His work is represented in many major museums, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Around the mid-1960s Noguchi recognized his preference for stone above all other materials and at the end of the decade he established a studio in Japan on the island of Shikoku, where he carved the large granite and basalt sculptures that culminated his career. Although a number of these works are smoothly polished, most of the late sculptures possess large areas of unworked surface, preserving the integrity of the stone as it emerged from the earth. Isamu Noguchi at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will be on view through Summer 2011.

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