NGA Canberra Sculpture Garden

A place to visit often

There were few people visiting the NGA’s Sculpture Garden when I visited to enjoy the garden’s well-designed spaces and to check out the artworks.

There was a family group having a picnic close to the lakeside on the edge of the larger grassed area. When it is warmer, these open grassed areas are popular.

There are seats scattered throughout so it is easy to find a quiet spot. One person was enjoying his solitude while reading a book on a seat looking on to the lake.

The gardens are in good shape and are well maintained. Full credit to those responsible for looking after this quiet corner of our world.

While the sculpture garden is not that big, the compactness of the plantings and their height creates a feeling of being cut off from the rest of the city.

It is wonderful just to sit with some of the artworks, listen to the breezes through the trees, the sound of birds and the occasional sounds of people chatting as they walk along the lakeside.

The trick to the landscape design is that many of the artworks are scattered throughout and to access them you have to wander through enclosed and tree-lined paths and corridors.

Several major works are in the courtyard area nearer the gallery, while the important Henry Moore sculpture is perched proudly on the far side of the pond.

Curiously, there is that shabby looking series of event tents alongside the pond – adding nothing to the aesthetics of the area.

Anyone who has visited these gardens would know of the fog sculpture that provides a moist fog experience along a central path. This operates between noon and 2pm (I was there at 2.20pm).

Such a fabulous asset as this sculpture garden is definitely a benefit of having the NGA in this city. I do wonder whether the garden has been a little overlooked of late – being as it is around the northern side of the building well away from the southern front entrance.

There are comparable gardens in other cities – such in the National Gallery Sculpture Gardens in Washington and the Norton Simon Museum Sculpture Garden, Pasadena. I remember visiting the Norton Simon Art Museum and being taken aback by how similar theirs is to the one here in Canberra. A noticeable difference is the Norton Simon gardens are accessed from the main galleries and are very much integrated with the building and its collection spaces.

When Jon Stanhope was chief minister, the ACT government had a successful program of public art – with many works now scattered throughout the city.

Building on the success of that program (now discontinued), maybe an ACT arts minister could initiate a collection of new sculptural works. These could be gathered together in an already established parkland or possibly placed within another newly planted bush setting forming another permanent sculpture garden or parkland similar to but not the same as the NGA’s garden.

Canberra could do with another sculpture garden or two – not necessarily by this lake – there are other lakes. More major cultural attractions need to be outside the central areas.

Remember that the NGA’s sculpture garden is a great place to wander into, to roam about and to take a seat to ponder about anything or maybe not much at all.

You do not have to do this as part of a visit to the main NGA exhibitions within, as a visit to the sculpture garden should be an experience in itself. This NGA’s sculpture garden is an outside exhibition of art and landscape design. It is worth visiting and revisiting.


This article is a version of the piece originally published online with City News

Paul Costigan is a commentator on cultural and urban matters

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