A Chronology of Cullen Sculpture Garden
The Brown Foundation, Inc., provides funds to purchase close to two city blocks of property across from the Museum, at Bissonnet Street and Montrose Boulevard. The land makes it feasible for the MFAH to begin plans for a formal sculpture garden.
Alice Pratt Brown, a Museum trustee and benefactor, visits the Billy Rose Sculpture Garden at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and is impressed by Isamu Noguchi’s design for the five-acre urban space.
Isamu Noguchi makes his initial visit the site to begin negotiations. He comes during a torrential rainstorm. Houston’s weather causes him to consider an island or a sunken garden, similar to his garden design at Bienecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut.
February: From his Long Island City studio, Noguchi begins to sculpt a preliminary model of the garden. Conceiving the garden as a walled-in sculptural entity, he writes to Museum director William Agee that “cozy nooks of bamboo without a sufficient barrier would be meaningless.”
March 14: In motion #78-986, Houston City Council honors the Museum’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.
February: Noguchi brings a maquette of the Cullen Sculpture Garden to Houston. Displayed at the Museum, it elicits diverse responses from the community. Some Houston architects, as well as the Museum Area Municipal Association, call for a less introverted and more accessible design. Many claim the high walls connote elitism and will pose a barrier to visitors. Despite the controversy, the plan is approved and the Houston Chronicle reports that “it’s full steam ahead on a major addition to Houston’s culture.”
April 4: Shoji Sadao of Noguchi’s studio presents revised plans to the MFAH board of trustees. Noguchi has modified the wall heights to create “a more inviting atmosphere,” and he has added additional greenery (vines and grassy embankments) and a northwest entrance.
February 6: Construction of the Cullen Sculpture Garden begins.
April 4: Isamu Noguchi, Houston Mayor Kathryn J. Whitmire, and Museum trustees Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Arnold Jr. lead a groundbreaking ceremony for the Cullen Sculpture Garden.
April 5: The Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden opens to the public and becomes Noguchi’s first U.S. sculpture garden created to house the work of other artists. Some 6,500 visitors attend the opening ceremony, which includes avant-garde composer John Cage’s world-premiere performance of his composition “Ryoanji.” In Artforum, Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom discuss the performance as “a moment when the garden revealed its potential to move and breathe.”
January 13: Ellsworth Kelly comes to the Cullen Sculpture Garden to install Houston Triptych, 1986, a formal response to Henri Matisse’s Backs and to Noguchi’s design. The triptych is placed on the west wall of the garden as the first work commissioned for the space.
June: The Washington Post reports that at the garden’s one-year anniversary, as the plants and trees are maturing, “it is possible to predict that the Cullen Sculpture Garden at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will become a preeminently restful urban island, a civilized respite wherein a precious few of the western world’s better bronzes (or ‘steels,’ or ‘aluminums’) can be viewed at leisure.”
To celebrate the 10-year anniversary, the MFAH publishes a catalogue on the Cullen Sculpture Garden.
The MFAH celebrates the Cullen Sculpture Garden’s 20-year anniversary and publishes a new book about the garden: Isamu Noguchi: A Sculpture for Sculpture.