Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, MFAH

The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, spans slightly more than one acre at the corner of Montrose and Bissonnet streets. This article outlines the history of the garden and includes photographs of the 25 sculptures on display when I last visited the Garden in April 2016.

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The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden spans slightly more than one acre at the corner of Montrose and Bissonnet streets. This document includes the history of the garden, as wells as an alphabetical list and a slideshow of the 25 sculptures on display at the Garden in April 2016.

HISTORY[1]

Between 1968 and1969, the MFAH purchased two city blocks at the corner of Montrose and Bissonnet streets, using funds from the Brown Foundation.

In 1970, Alice Pratt Brown, an MFAH trustee and wife of George R. Brown, one of the principals of the Brown Foundation, visited the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The Rose Sculpture Garden is a five-acre urban space designed by Isamu Noguchi to resemble a Zen garden. It has zigzagging sloping sections and displays a wide range of diverse, international masterpieces.

Six years later, in 1976, Noguchi made his initial visit to the site. He arrived during a torrential rainstorm, causing him to consider an island or a sunken garden, similar to his garden at the Bienecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. Instead, he refined the Museum’s original concept over the next five years in response to Houston’s environment.

In February 1977, Noguchi began to sculpt a preliminary model of the garden at his studio at Long Island City. Conceiving the garden as a walled-in sculptural entity, he wrote to then-director William Agee that “cozy nooks of bamboo without a sufficient barrier would be meaningless.”

On March 14, 1978, Houston’s City Council honored the MFAH’s request to designate the garden as the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, in recognition of the Houston couple’s benevolent contributions to the city’s art and medical communities.

In 1978, Noguchi was officially commissioned to design the garden.

In February, 1979, Noguchi brought a maquette of the Cullen Sculpture Garden to Houston. Displayed at the museum, it elicited diverse responses from the community. Some Houston architects, as well as the Museum Area Municipal Association, called for a less introverted and more accessible design. Many claimed that the high walls connoted elitism and would pose a barrier to visitors. Despite the controversy, the plan was approved.

On April 4, 1983, Shoji Sadao of Noguchi’s studio presented revised plans to the MFAH board of trustees. Noguchi had modified the wall heights to create “a more inviting atmosphere” and had added vines, grassy embankments, and a northwest entrance.

Construction of the Cullen Sculpture Garden began on February 6, 1984. The groundbreaking was held on site on April 4, 1985. The ceremony, attended by 6,500 people, was led by Houston Mayor Kathryn J. Whitmire and Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Arnold, Jr. Mrs. Arnold is one of Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen’s daughters.

A year later, on April 5, 1986, the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden opened to the public, becoming Noguchi’s first U.S. sculpture garden created to house the work of other artists.

As built, the Cullen Sculpture Garden’s walls actually are lower than originally planned. The garden is intended to be Surreal, a metaphysical landscape of freestanding angular concrete planes with raised beds of grass, trees, and broad, meandering paved terraces.[2]

On January 13, 1987, Ellsworth Kelly came to the Cullen Sculpture Garden to install Houston Triptych, 1986, on the west wall of the garden. Not only was it a formal response to Henri Matisse’s Backs and to Noguchi’s design, it was also the first work commissioned by the MFAH for the space.

The MFAH has published two guides to the Cullen Sculpture Garden: a 1996 catalogue celebrating its 10th anniversary and a book by Alison Greene, Valerie J. Fletcher, Marc Trieb, and Rocky Kneten entitled Isamu Noguchi: A Sculpture for Sculpture to celebrate the 20th anniversary in 2006. This year marks the Garden’s 30th anniversary.

To read more about the Cullen Sculpture Garden, go to Artworks.

The Cullen Sculpture Garden is located on about one-quarter of the two blocks purchased from the city in 1968-1969. The balance of the land purchase is now being developed by the MFAH into the new Sarofim Campus.

ARTISTS – ALPHABETICAL LIST

Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Adam, 1889, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Arnold, Jr.

Louise Bourgeois, Quarantania I, 1947-1953, 1947-1953, cast 1981-1984, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase.

Tony Cragg, New Forms, 1981-1983, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase with funds provided by The Schissler Foundation.

Raymond Duchamp-Villan, The Large Horse, 1914, bronze, cast 1966, gift of the Board of Trustees.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Nature, Nos. 18 & 28, 1963, bronze, gift of Dominique and Jean de Menil.

Joseph Havel, Exhaling Pearls, 1993, patinated bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, purchase funded by Caroline Wiess Law Accession Fund, Isabel and Max Herzstein, Isabel B. Wilson, Nona and Richard Barrett and friends of the artist.

Bryan Hunt, Big Twist, 1978, bronze, bequest of Edward R. Broida.

Bryan Hunt, Arch Falls, 1981, bronze on limestone base, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, purchase with funds provided by the Charles Engelhard Foundation.

Ellsworth Kelly, Houston Triptych, 1986, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum commission, Museum purchase funded by The Brown Foundation, Inc., and Mr. and Mrs. M. S. Stude in honor of Mr. and Mrs. George R. Brown. © Ellsworth Kelly.

Aristide Maillol, Flora, Nude, 1910, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Isaac Arnold, Jr., in honor of his wife, Antonette (“Tony”) Arnold.

Marino Marini, The Pilgrim (Il Pellegrino), 1939, bronze, the MFAH, gift of the Hobby Foundation, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Alvin S. Romansky. © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome.

Henri Matisse, Back I, 1909, bronze, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Theodore N. Law in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Harry C. Wiess.

Henri Matisse, Back II, 1913, bronze, gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gus Wortham.

Henri Matisse, Back III, 1916-1917, bronze, gift of the Cullen Foundation in memory of Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen.

Henri Matisse, Back IV, 1930, bronze, gift of the Brown Foundation in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Brown.

Mimmo Paladino, The Sound of Night, 1986, bronze, gift of Alice and Timothy Sharma.

Linda Ridgway, The Dance, 2000, bronze, the MFAH, in celebration of the life of Karen H. Susman from the partners and spouses at Susman Godfrey L.L.P. © Dunn and Brown Contemporary, and the artist.

Auguste Rodin, Cybele, modeled c. 1890, enlarged 1904, Cast 1982, bronze, ed. 3/8, loan from Iris Cantor.

Auguste Rodin, Spirit of Eternal Repose, modeled 1898-1899, cast 1982, bronze, ed. 2/8, loan from Iris Cantor.

Auguste Rodin, Walking Man, 1905, cast 1962, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Margarett Root Brown in honor of Louisa Stude Sarofim.

Joel Shapiro, Untitled, 1990, bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Max and Isabell Smith Herzstein in memory of Benjamin K. Smith. © Joel Shapiro/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

David Smith, Two Circle Sentinel, 1961, stainless steel, the MFAH, museum purchase with funds provided by the Brown Foundation Accessions Endowment Fund in memory of Alice Pratt Brown. © Estate of David Smith/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.

Frank Stella, Decanter, 1987, steel and bronze, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, purchase with funds provided by the Alice Pratt Brown Foundation.

William Tucker, Gymnast II, 1985, bronze, bequest of Edward R. Broida.

Eduardo Ramirez Villamizar, Memory of Machu Picchu No. 3 (The Terraces), 1984, oxidized iron, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston purchase funded by the Caribbean Art Fund and the Caroline Wiess Law Accessions Endowment Fund.

SLIDE SHOW

002: William Tucker, Gymnast II, 1985, bronze

003-1: Auguste Rodin, Walking Man, 1905, cast 1962, bronze

003-2: Raymond Duchamp-Villan, The Large Horse, 1914, bronze, cast 1966

003-3: Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, Adam, 1889, bronze

004: Mimmo Paladino, The Sound of Night, 1986, bronze

005: Tony Cragg, New Forms, 1981-1983, bronze

006: Aristide Maillol, Fava, Nude, 1910, bronze.

007: Joseph Havel, Exhaling Pearls, 1993, Patinated bronzet.

008: Auguste Rodin, Cybele, modeled c. 1890, enlarged 1904, Cast 1982, bronze, ed. 3/8

009: Bryan Hunt, Arch Falls, 1981, bronze on limestone base

010: Frank Stella, Decanter, 1987, steel and bronze

011: Linda Ridgway, The Dance, 2000, bronze

012: Marino Marini, The Pilgrim (Il Pellegrino), 1939, bronze

013: Ellsworth Kelly, Houston Triptych, 1986, bronze

014:  Bryan Hunt, Big Twist, 1978, bronze

015: Louise Bourgeois, Quarantania I, 1947-1953, 1947-1953, cast 1981-1984

016: David Smith, Two Circle Sentinel, 1961, stainless steel

017: Eduardo Ramirez Villamizar, Memory of Machu Picchu No. 3 (The Terraces), 1984, oxidized iron

018-1: Henri Matisse, Back I, 1909, bronze

018-2: Henri Matisse, Back II, 1913, bronze

018-3: Henri Matisse, Back III, 1916-1917, bronze

018-4: Henri Matisse, Back IV, 1930, bronze

019: Auguste Rodin, Spirit of Eternal Repose, modeled 1898-1899, cast 1982, bronze, ed. 2/8

020: Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, Nature, Nos. 18 & 28, 1963, bronze

021: Joel Shapiro, Untitled, 1990, bronze


[1] http://www.mfah.org/visit/cullen-sculpture-garden/history-cullen-sculpture-garden, accessed April 12, 2016.

[2] Houston=s Cradle of Culture and Environs, p. 42.

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