Located a 15-minute drive from downtown Grand Rapids, Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park is a 132-acre green space known internationally for its horticulture and outdoor art.
Scattered throughout the park’s woodlands, wetlands and meadows are more than 200 art installations. Statues by 19th century masters tower over cryptic sculptures crafted by emerging designers. Giant metal insects hide behind walls of perfectly manicured shrubs.
The variety and quality of its installations landed Meijer Gardens on a list of one of the top 100 most-visited art museums worldwide, up there with the Louvre, the Guggenheim, and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
We spent two hours strolling through the wooded paths and paved roads that wind through the grounds. You can read more about our experience here.
All of the installations were impressive, but these were our favorite Meijer Gardens sculptures. (Big thanks to the gardens’ PR manager, Andrea Wolschleger, who helped explain the stories behind the sculptures.)
Spider, by Louise Bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois started out as a painter, but eventually found her calling in sculpture and installation work. Family is a recurring theme in her creations. Spider is a tribute to Bourgeois’ mother, who made her living restoring antique tapestries.
Note the sac of eggs the spider is protecting underneath her chest.
Aria by Alexander Liberman
An aria is an elaborate melody written for a solo singer. The curves of Liberman’s 42-foot structure could represent notes. The lines could symbolize the bars in a music staff.
It’s okay to break from the path to wander in and around the sculpture.
I, you, she or he… by Jaume Plensa
Artist Jaume Plensa often deals with ideas about language and communication in his installations. This commission for Meijer Gardens is no exception. Three figures, their shells made of stainless steel letters, sit in a silent conversation. Their faces are purposefully left unfinished. Plensa, one of the world’s leading sculpture artists, is most well-known in the United States for his Crown Fountain in Chicago’s Millennium Park.
Scarlatti by Mark di Suvero
I loved how this sculpture, which struck me as a futuristic airplane or insect, loomed ominously on a hill over the trail. Contemporary artist Mark di Suvero is known for his monumental work. His pieces feature scrap metal, I-beams and other industrial building supplies. This installation gets its name from Domenico Scarlatti, an 18th century Italian composer whose music Di Suvero greatly admired.
The American Horse by Nina Akamu
When we checked in to Meijer Gardens, we were told we had to see “the horse”. Designed by famed animaliere (or animal sculptor, I had to look it up) Nina Akamu, this piece was heavily inspired by a similar horse Leonardo da Vinci built for the Duke of Milan in the late 15th century. Two casts of this 24-foot bronze sculpture were created: one for Meijer Gardens and the other for the city of Milan.
Neuron by Roxy Paine
Built from more than 3,000 stainless steel rods and pipes, Neuron was designed to represent ideas about nature, industry and the artistic process. Be careful not to trip on the silver branches as you explore this 41-foot tall installation.
Male/Female by Jonathan Borofsky
I loved this piece. Depending on where you stood in the park, this sculpture alternated between a male and female silhouette. For Borofsky, the work represents two opposite energies coming together to create a stronger whole.
Espaliered Girl by Laura Ford
Espaliered Girl, like much of Ford’s current work, represents our desire to be noticed with our desire to blend in. “Espalier” is a French gardening term that involves training a plant’s branches to grow in the direction you want, not the direction nature intended.
We worked with the Grand Rapids and Traverse City tourism boards in arranging our trip to Michigan, as well as with individual companies and organizations. No one reviewed the stories we wrote in advance of publication. All opinions expressed here are our own.