Frederik Meijer Sculpture Park and Gardens

Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden
Leslie E. Tassell English Perennial and Bulb Garden

Recently while I was visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan and had an opportunity to spend time exploring the Frederik Meijer Sculpture Park and Gardens.  It was a wonderful few hours on a gorgeous summer day and I loved the mixture of art, nature, and cultivated gardens.  The Gardens opened in 1995, sits on 158 acres and aims to promote an understanding of gardens, sculpture, nature, and the arts.

Given that the site is 158 acres and that we had a limited time frame we were selective about which areas of the Gardens we explored.  We spent the bulk of our time exploring the Sculpture Park which is 30 acres of outdoor paths, formal gardens, and natural landscape all geared to showcase large outdoor sculptures.  There was a mixture of modern and traditional sculpture with some of my favourites being huge metal sculptures that were large enough to walk under. I also liked that they intentionally left some areas of the sculpture park ‘wild’ or more natural, it provided a great contrast to the sculptures.

One of my favourite sculptures from the Sculpture Park

In addition to the sculpture park during our visit there was also an indoor exhibition, Ai Weiwei at Meiher Gardens: Natural State.  As part of this show Ai Weiwei’s work was in a formal gallery space but also located in conservatories and public spaces. Ai Weiwei is known as an activist and artist and much of his work on display was politically motivated or providing critical commentary on social events.

We also spent some time viewing around the indoor conservatories, the British style outdoor garden area, and the kids garden.  We concluded our visiting the daylily show and competition that just happened to be occurring the day we visited.  Lilies are one of my favourite flowers and I adored seeing the range of colours and styles of flowers featured in the show.

Overall this was a really great way to spend a morning, I left feeling like I learned something and also feeling really relaxed after spending so much time outside among beautiful garden spaces.  I would definitely recommend this site to anyone traveling through Grand Rapids.

Signage and Not So Common Sense in Galleries

The Art Gallery of Algoma is currently featuring an exhibit titled Imagery from the Canadian North in its Project Room gallery. The exhibition contains works in a variety of mediums from the AGA’s permanent collection that were created by artists from Canada’s North. 

The small exhibit contains wall hangings, prints, drawings, paintings, and stone carving.  The pieces included provide a small glimpse into the rich artistic traditions in Canada’s arctic and Indigenous art in Canada.  I particularly enjoyed an untitled wall hanging by Joanne Akoptanuak depicting both humans and animals sharing a space.

However, very little contextual information was included in the project room about the featured artists, the impact of climate on art, and where in Canada’s North the works were created.  Two maps were included as part of the didactic material in the exhibit but didn’t really provide detailed context about the location of the Northern artists whose work was being featured.

While taking in the exhibition a few other visitors to the gallery were also in the space.  The exhibition features a few soapstone carvings on pedestals without a glass enclosure.  The signage at the entrance to the space did include a note about not touching the artwork.  However, during my time in the space I had to restrain myself when two other visitors repeatedly touched the uncovered artwork.  The one visitor also commented to a friend, “oh these pieces are uncovered, that must mean they want us to touch them.”  Cringing and sideways glares abounded.

If nothing else that experience reminded me of the importance of exhibition design, signage, and security in galleries and museums.  Things gallery staff might think are common sense aren’t always.  Having visible signage explaining appropriate conduct, contextual information, and educational information is a crucial part of any exhibition.

Parks, Public Art, and Community Gardens

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the second post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite mornings in Chicago was spent wondering around Millennium Park and the numerous public gardens in the area. Millennium Park contains a number of great public art pieces, examples of great architecture, and regularly hosts free music events.


Vegetables in Millennium Park flower bed

 I loved the fact that so much of the downtown area had been preserved as green space. The space the Millennium Park occupies was  maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad and prior to 1997 the area was filled with railroad tracks and parking lots. Through a public and private partnership the now 24.5 acre park was turned into a public space built on top of the ‘unsightly’ parking lots. Photographs of the transformation of the land can be seen in the Chicago Public Library Millennium Park Digital Collection

The park is perhaps most well known for its inclusion of the work of architect Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge.  Both are beautiful structures and during my visit we took in a bit of the Grant Park Music Festival in the Pavilion.

The park also has a number of public art installations including Cloud Gate (aka the bean), Crown Fountain, and currently 1004 Portraits by Jaume Plensa is on by the Crown Fountain.

Art In The Farm Garden

I was also enthralled by the integration of vegetables into the gardens of Millennium and Grant Park.  A number of the main gardens and flower beds in Millennium Park contain corn, tomatoes, herbs and other veggies.  When harvested the vegetables are being donated to local non-profits. 

Youth working in the Art In The Farm Garden

There were also a number of vegetable only gardens in other sections of the park.  The community driven nature of these initiatives is inspiring.  The Grant Park “Art in the Farm” urban agriculture project is managed by Growing Power which trains and employs at-risk youth in urban agriculture and community food system development.  The gardens were both beautiful and practical.  It was great to see people working in the gardens and actually engaging with the green space. 

The prevalence of community gardens reminded me a lot of wartime community gardens that were started during WWII.  In Chicago over 1,500 victory gardens were started in the city mostly by people who had never gardened before.  An interesting comparison between the 1940s victory gardens and contemporary urban gardening can be seen here.

You can easily spend hours wondering around the parks in Chicago taking in the public art, gardens, and examples of community building.  I also spent considerable time in the Lurie Garden, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay.