Return to Previous Page

The Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden

The Museum’s one-acre, terraced Sculpture Garden presents a superb and versatile outdoor setting for the appreciation of art, offering a lively experience of sculpture for both the casual passerby and devoted art lovers. Gracefully integrated into the existing landscape, the Sculpture Garden extends the Museum’s vast galleries to the outdoors while strengthening its connections to the city and Fairmount Park. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, the Garden is dedicated to the Museum’s late director Anne d’Harnoncourt, whose shared passions for art, people, and the city of Philadelphia informed everything that happened at the Museum during her tenure from 1982 to 2008.

Sculptural in its form and design, the Garden is divided into five sections: the Upper Terrace, the Lower Terrace, two graveled galleries and a paved plaza. As the landscapes of the Sculpture Garden change with the seasons, so will its artistic offerings. Works include two concrete block sculptures by Sol LeWitt, Steps (Philadelphia) and Pyramid (Philadelphia); two chairs, a bench, and a table by Scott Burton; Steel Woman II by Thomas Schütte; Flukes by Gordon Gund; and Claes Oldenburg’s iconic Giant Three-Way Plug (Cube Tap), presented to the Museum by Geraldine and David N. Pincus in memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt. The Garden’s most recent installations include a remarkable work made of weathering steel by Ellsworth Kelly entitled Curve I from 1973, and Lips from 2012 by Austrian artist Franz West—a towering large-scale sculpture in three parts conceived specifically for the site.

Lips, 2012
Franz West (Austrian, 1947-2012)
Aluminum, epoxy resin
Franz West, Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery
Towering above the landscape of the Museum’s Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden is a large-scale sculpture in three parts conceived by acclaimed Austrian artist Franz West (Austrian, 1947-2012). Created specifically for the site’s Lower Terrace, Lips from 2012 is the last commission West realized prior to his untimely passing in July of 2012, standing as an extraordinary testament to the lasting legacy of the artist’s influential work.

Whimsical in color, abstract in shape, and monumental in size, Lips speaks to the radical impulse and joyful playfulness that characterizes West’s oeuvre. Emerging from the Garden ground in a contoured arrangement of animated shapes, this trio of biomorphic structures transposes a vibrant palette of green, blue, and pink onto the surrounding urban skyline. As the tallest sculpture extends to 30 feet in height, West’s abstracted forms yield a commanding presence, yet the spiraling shapes invite enjoyment and contemplation. Serving as outdoor seating, visitors are encouraged to interact with West’s installation, transforming the landscape into a social platform for an activated relationship between art and audience.


The Installation of Franz West's Lips

The Installation of Franz West's Lips in the Anne d'Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden (2012)
Watch Video >>

Influenced by the philosophical writings of Ludwig Wittgenstein, who investigated the structure of meaning and language, West chose a title for his large-scale installation that is, to quote the artist, "outside of the usual meaningfulness." Marked by a term that emphasizes the lack of relation between name and perceived object, West’s Lips prompts an aesthetic and intellectual engagement beyond the limitations of fixed meaning and experience.

About the Artist

Franz West was born in Vienna in 1947, where he lived and worked until his death in July of 2012 at the age of 65. As an extraordinarily influential figure in contemporary art, West developed an artistic sensibility that consistently probed the boundaries of accepted norms, resulting in an eccentric practice that came to encompass the mediums of sculpture, collage, installation, furniture design, and large-scale public works.

Born to a coal-dealing father and a dentist mother, West was raised in the conservative climate of post-war Vienna. Reacting against the radical, often violent, presentations of the Viennese Actionists in the late 1960s, West’s early work activated the audience role by focusing on the social and participatory possibilities of art.

Stemming from a keen interest in psychology and philosophy, most notably in the writings of Sigmund Freud and the aforementioned Ludwig Wittgenstein, West’s art became an exploration of human behavior. Enabling language to inform, shape, and reconfigure the experience of the art object, West utilized the power of critical and theoretical texts to serve as points of departure for his artwork—employing meaning to negotiate the boundaries between art and life. By addressing the everyday habits of the human body at the formal level in his work, West sought to create an art that could be appreciated and experienced on a physical level, an "art you could really get in touch with."

An early example of this invigorated physicality can be found in West’s Paßstück sculptures from the 1970s, commonly referred to as "Adaptives." Whether propped against the gallery walls or resting on makeshift pedestals, these anthropomorphic sculptures made of plaster were created to be carried, worn, and activated physically by the spectator. In West’s later public artworks, often recognizable for their patchwork surfaces of bandaged aluminum, the artist extended these corporeal concerns to inhabit large-scale proportions. West’s furniture designs are also significant in this regard as his thoughtfully constructed metal chairs and divans, upholstered in lurid colors and varying patterns, resonate with the artist’s characteristic satire of the contemporary experience.

Working in a wide variety of media, West consistently sought to articulate an irreverent aesthetic, disrupting the white walls of the traditional art context while establishing a visceral engagement between his art and the audience that cemented his position as one of the most significant figures of contemporary art today.

The Anne d’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden was designed by OLIN landscape architects working with Atkin Olshin Schade Architects. It received official commendation from the Federal Environmental Protection Agency for its environmentally friendly design.

The Garden has also been generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, Marguerite and Gerry Lenfest, The Pew Charitable Trusts, and Penelope P. Wilson. It is a Community Conservation Partnership Initiative supported by the Growing Greener II Bond Fund, administered by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Return to Previous Page