The idyllic garden among the sculptures

NGA Sculpture Garden. Photo: Paul Costigan

It may be a cold winter, but when the sun is shining, finding a quiet spot in a park or garden is one of life’s pleasures. Here in Canberra there is such a lakeside spot at the National Gallery of Australia, writes the ‘Canberra Matters’ columnist PAUL COSTIGAN.

Paul Costigan.

There were few people visiting the NGA Sculpture Garden during my visit to enjoy the well-designed spaces of the garden and view the artwork.

There was a family group having a picnic near the lake, at the edge of the largest lawn. When it’s warmer, these open grassy areas are popular.

There are seats scattered everywhere, so it’s easy to find a quiet spot. A person was enjoying their solitude by reading a book on a seat overlooking the lake.

The gardens are in good condition and well maintained. Full credit to those who care for this quiet corner of our world.

If the sculpture garden is not so big, the compactness of the plantations and their height create a feeling of disconnection with the rest of the city.

It’s wonderful to sit with some of the artwork, listen to the breeze through the trees, the sound of birds, and the occasional sounds of people chatting as you walk along the lake.

The trick to the landscape design is that many works of art are scattered around and to get to them you have to walk through enclosed, tree-lined paths and corridors. Several major works can be found in the courtyard near the gallery, while Henry Moore’s important sculpture perches proudly across the pond.

Oddly enough, there’s this series of shabby looking event tents along the pond – adding nothing to the aesthetics of the area.

Anyone who has visited these gardens would be familiar with the fog sculpture which provides a wet mist experience along a central path. This one 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 wonder if the garden hasn’t been a bit neglected lately – given that it’s around the north side of the building, well away from the main south entrance.

There are comparable gardens in other cities – as 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 surprised at how similar theirs is to Canberra’s. A notable difference is that the Norton Simon Gardens are accessed from the main galleries and are very integrated with the building and its collection spaces.

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

Building on the success of this (now discontinued) program, perhaps an ACT Arts Minister could launch a collection of new sculptural works. These could be collected in an already established park or possibly placed in another newly planted bush setting forming another permanent sculpture garden or park similar but not identical to the NGA garden.

Canberra could do with another sculpture garden or two – not necessarily on this lake – there are other lakes. More major cultural attractions should be located outside of central areas.

NGA Sculpture Garden. Photo: Paul Costigan

In the meantime, remember that the NGA Sculpture Garden is a great place to stroll, stroll, and sit to think about everything or maybe not much at all.

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

Who can we trust?

In a world of spin and confusion, there has never been a more important time to support independent journalism in Canberra.

If you trust our online work and want to strengthen the power of independent voices, I invite you to make a small contribution.

Every support dollar is reinvested in our journalism to help keep strong and free.

Become a supporter


Ian Meikle, editor