Situated in the middle of Houston’s Museum District on the grounds of the Museum of Fine Art Houston (MFAH), lies a hidden oasis. The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden is a truly unique space where art and nature work together to please the senses. Nature and sculpture are paired in unexpected and beautiful combinations: Drummon Red Maples with Louise Bourgeois; Drake Elms with Auguste Rodin, Giant Timber Bamboo with Henri Matisse; and Asian Jasmine with David Smith.
The men behind the vision are sculptor Isamu Noguchi and architect Mies van der Rohe. Rohe’s stunning employment of sleek design is showcased throughout the grounds of the MFAH and is done justice by Nogochi’s clever curation. Noguchi, who began his career assisting Gutzon Borglum in the carving of Mount Rushmore, initially foresaw the garden as an island in the literal sense, but the the logistics of building a moat prevented it. Instead, a walll was built to block out the distracting sites and sounds of the surrounding city. As one enters the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, all else falls away away, creating an island-like atmosphere.
Completed in 1986, the design of the garden was particularly innovative within landscape tradition at the time. In contrast to gardens of the Italian Renaissance or the English tradition, Noguchi was attracted to Modernist gardens that sought to use sculpture to contrast with natural forms. Noguchi, refusing to be limited by the natural contours of the earth, placed sculptures and vegetation in such that it feels both striking and harmonious. Noguchi called the garden ‘a sculpture for sculpture’ which is also the title of a fascinating book that was released in 2006 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the garden.
Rodin’s ‘Walking Man’
Depicting a headless and armless St. John, exuding strength and physicality, there is nothing static about this statue. Auguste Rodin skillfully forged the body of a man who appears as though he might be transported at any moment by means of a powerful stride. Poet Carl Sandburg wrote of Rodin’s sculpture, ‘you make us proud of our legs, old man.’
Bourgeois’s ‘Quarantania I’
Louise Bourgeois’s Quarantania I is a surrealist representation of the isolation and angst she experienced growing up. Her family relationships were fraught with tension, created when her father brought home a mistress in the guise of a young English tutor and kept her in the family home for ten years. Looking at this sculpture it is hard not to experience the anxieties that Bourgeois has skillfully cast into bronze.
Calder’s ‘The Crab’
Initially a mechanical engineer, Alexander Calder had his artistic epiphany while working as a fireman on a ship. The shapes he encountered there created connections in his mind that reminded him of stars and the planets and he promptly moved to New York and enrolled in art school. In The Crab, Calder’s knowledge of mechanics combine with a joyous love of aesthetics. It is bright, bold and at the right time of day the surrounding vegetation casts dappled shadows across its painted steel body.
Ridgway’s ‘The Dance’
The connection between art and nature is no more explicit than in Linda Ridgway’s, The Dance which was cast from a grapevine that grew in her own backyard. Positioned as though it is freely crawling up the wall, this sculpture serves as a reminder that art can be natural in the same way that nature can be art. Here Ridgway has articulated the trend of imitation of the organic that occurred in the 1980s and 1990s in such ideal surroundings that it is hard to imagine this sculpture existing anywhere else.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.