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Friday, June 26, 2009

Citygarden To Open July 1; Downtown Park Will Provide City a Permanent Facelift

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2009 at 1:21 PM

click to enlarge Eros Bendato by Igor Mitoraj
  • Eros Bendato by Igor Mitoraj

The much anticipated Citygarden, which hopes to further propel downtown St. Louis' revitalization efforts, opens to the public at 6 a.m. on July 1. Situated on a two-block stretch between 8th and 10th streets -- bounded by Chestnut Street on the north and Market Street on the south - Citygarden is an urban sculpture garden featuring 24 pieces of modern and contemporary art.

The sculptures included range in style and form - from whimsical to serious, romantic to unsettling. Notable pieces include Aristide Maillol's "La Riviere" which can also be seen at MOMA in New York; American pop artist Jim Dine's Pinocchio figure; a series of in-ground bronze rings crafted by French artist Bernar Venet and Tony Smith's elegant "Night," a sleek, Tetris-like piece. The late NYC social activist Keith Haring has a spiraling-screw sculpture called "Ringed Figure" on the corner of 10th and Market, right next to Tom Claassen's peaceful 2006 piece "Two Rabbits." And Oxford, England-raised Julian Opie is the only artist with multiple pieces in Citygarden: two digitally rendered installations of a male and a female figure walking side-by-side.

Kathryn Adamchick, content consultant with the Citygarden and former director of education at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, likens the park to Chicago's Millennium Park and the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle. But Rollin Stanley, the former director of planning and urban design for the city of St. Louis, calls Citygarden "the best example of a public sculpture garden in downtown in any city in North America.

"As a result of its location, it's going to unite the north and the south side of the Gateway Mall in that location," he says.

Besides the public art, Citygarden contains a "spray plaza" (i.e., a cluster of jets of water), a video wall and rain gardens. Nelson Byrd Woltz (the firm responsible for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Pennsylvania) designed the space, which is landscaped with plants and trees indigenous to Missouri. Citygarden also features the Terrace View, a restaurant run by local chef Jim Fiala (Acero, Liluma).

Another unique component of Citygarden is its audio tour. Visitors can access it there - or anywhere - by calling 314-802-9571. Ben Kaplan of act3, the communications strategy and design firm that produced the audio tour, enlisted what he calls "local notables" to describe the artists and the sculptures. Participants include former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith, rapper Murphy Lee, ex-Rams quarterback Kurt Warner and actors Jenna Fischer and DJ Lance Rock (from the popular children's show Yo Gabba Gabba).

Aerial rendering of Citygarden.
  • Aerial rendering of Citygarden.

"Whatever efforts we made to make this accessible to the public, the goal was not to make it feel like museum-speak," says Adamchick, who helped research and write the scripts for the tour. "[The goal was] to make it accessible and understandable to everyone - not [to] make it very academic or very teachy, but to create a piece that was really fun and engaging and [something] that people would want to listen to while they were experiencing sculptures."

Adds Paul Wagman, a spokesman for the Gateway Foundation: "Fun has been a value in creating this garden. One of the aims has been to create a space that people can really enjoy. Although the art is stunning and although the landscaping is spectacular, nothing is meant to be stuffy."

Citygarden arose from a partnership between the City of St. Louis and the Gateway Foundation, a non-profit whose "mission is to enrich the cultural landscape of St. Louis," Wagman says. The Foundation spent $25 to $30 million on design, construction and insurance/maintenance costs. (The cost of the sculptures was separate; Wagman declines to say how much the Foundation spent.)

Tentative plans for a downtown sculpture garden featuring public art have existed since 1999's Downtown Development Action Plan. But Citygarden in particular arose out of the city's 2006 plan to develop the entire Gateway Mall.

"As we completed the competition and the contracting process for the Old Post Office Plaza, the mayor [Slay] then said, 'OK, we now need to move on to our next big project, to look at the other open spaces in downtown, to try and create more of a synergy,'" Stanley says.

"We then approached the Gateway Foundation -- the mayor did -- about sponsoring a competition -- which we ran in the planning department -- to bring a consultant to team up with us to come up with a vision for the entire mall."

The Gateway Mall design competition was completed in late 2006. Plans for Citygarden came into focus soon after. The Board of Aldermen approved the proposal in July 2007; the Preservation Board followed suit in October of that year.


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