Just two months before it opens to the public, new details were released Monday about the landscaping and water features that visitors will experience when they walk through the New Orleans Museum of Art's expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.
Central to the design of the new garden is a curved walking bridge that will sit flush with the lagoon that surrounds it, giving visitors the feeling of walking through water.
The 70-foot bridge, which dips into the lagoon as it curves alongside the existing Roosevelt Mall walkway leading to the museum, will serve as the connector between the existing five-acre sculpture garden and the 6.5-acre, $15 million expansion.
Nearby, a large stone sculpture placed on a man-made island will appear to rise directly out of the water, as curved pathways and centuries-old live oaks define the surrounding landscape.
When the expanded Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden opens May 15, it will do more than just double the footprint of the existing gard…
The new details bring into clearer focus the long-anticipated addition that will more than double the size of the existing garden and pair 26 contemporary sculptures with native plantings to diversify the garden's character, said Walda Besthoff, a patron of the garden.
The expansion is scheduled to open on May 15.
“While the sculpture garden expansion builds on the success of the existing garden, we have worked with our design partners to incorporate architectural features that the original garden does not have,” Besthoff said in a statement. “The principals developing this project have worked hard and well together to achieve an imaginative and exhilarating new space."
The rear half of the museum itself, as well as the Roosevelt Mall walkway leading to it, will serve as a clear divider between the old garden and the new.
On one side, the existing garden sits nestled between the Botanical Garden and Bayou Metairie. Across the bridge, the expanded garden abuts Henry Thomas Drive, which leads to the new Children's Museum and extends to the edge of Big Lake, located between the garden and Bayou St. John.
While the two parts of the sculpture garden have much in common — the original also uses water and natural elements to enhance the experience for viewers — the expansion builds even further on the idea of making the park's surroundings, especially the lagoons, part of the experience. The goal is to make visitors feel more "immersed in nature" while exploring the artwork, officials said.
Unlike the original garden, the expansion was designed with specific sculptures in mind. Those works were intentionally selected to feel as if they belong in nature, according to Margaux Krane, a spokeswoman for the museum.
When designing the expansion, the museum turned to the Cultural Landscape Report of City Park for inspiration, officials said.
The report, created by Suzanne Turner Associates in 2006, identified three distinct components of the park: its unique lagoon system, a network of paths, and a canopy of trees with an undergrowth of native plants that define areas of open lawns.
The result was a blueprint by the landscape design firm Reed Hilderbrand that called for an expansion consisting of 1.9 new acres of water. The look is being achieved by reshaping one of the park's lagoons, which had become partially filled following Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to featuring contemporary art and bringing some of the museum's sculpture collection outside, officials hope the expansion will express the story of capturing and cleaning water, highlighting the park's 11-mile lagoon system as a work of art unto itself.
Stormwater pipes will be diverted to capture sediment before reaching the water, and officials will introduce new vegetation to mitigate pollutants. A weir will allow for changes in the water level to address flooding potential and re-oxygenate the system.
Overlooking the sculptures and lagoons will be 800 feet of bridges. There will also be handicapped-accessible paths and new plantings, including 65 trees and more than 475 shrubs, officials said.
Unlike the existing garden, which includes non-native plants like pittosporum, Japanese camellia and star jasmine among its oak, cypress and pine trees, the expansion uses only indigenous Louisiana plants, including southern and sweetbay magnolias and shrubs like beautyberry, star anise, wax myrtle, groundsel bush and buttonbush.
The Louisiana Iris Society has also contributed a much larger collection of locally sourced irises than were planted in the original garden, according to Reed Hilderbrand.
Two new site-specific commissioned pieces are slated to become highlights of the space, including a glass bridge created by Elyn Zimmerman that has an embedded pattern inspired by mid-20th century maps by cartographer Harold Fisk. The unique piece shows how the Mississippi River and its tributaries have shifted course over the centuries.
The second commissioned work, a 60-foot mosaic wall by artist Teresita Fernández, will line the main courtyard.
Both are more contemporary pieces that diversify the look of the original garden, which features sculptures primarily from the 19th and 20th centuries, NOMA Director Susan Taylor said.
Other highlights of the expansion include works by Frank Stella, Tony Cragg and Ursula Von Rydingsvard.
The expansion will also feature a 5,000-square-foot indoor sculpture pavilion created by Lee Ledbetter & Associates. With an elliptical shape, curved walls and 18-foot ceilings, the exhibition space will encourage movement around the installations, allow displays of taller works and works meant to be housed indoors, and provide a continuous skylight around the room’s perimeter, officials said.
The expansion will also feature an outdoor learning environment and an amphitheater that will open the space to more than 300 people for music, film, dance and theater programs.