The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

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60 Years of Public Sculpture at The Aldrich

In 1958, Larry Aldrich and his wife, Wynn, took a trip to Switzerland to visit several private art collections. One collector had a second house dedicated solely to his artwork, where entire rooms held single paintings on display exclusively for the viewer’s enjoyment. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Aldrich was taken by the arrangement and upon returning to the states, was intent on finding a space for his own roughly 300-piece collection so that the work could be appreciated, not tucked away in storage. In the fall of 1963, while Mr. Aldrich was driving along Main Street, he noticed a “For Sale” sign in front of the Old Hundred—an eighteenth-century edifice charmingly nicknamed for its 100-year run as a grocery and hardware store. Shortly thereafter, he purchased the Ridgefield landmark and in 1964 established the Larry Aldrich Museum.

Impressed by the building’s four-story structure and twelve-foot-high ceilings, Aldrich went ahead with the renovations necessary to exhibit artwork. Organizing exhibitions within the walls of the Old Hundred—that is, displaying artwork scaled to fit through stairwells and which would not exceed one-story height restrictions—was straightforward and expected. However, the property also included an expansive, three-acre landscape. This new territory, both literally and figuratively, proved to be an opportunity for Mr. Aldrich to foster public art engagement, a concern essential to the Museum’s formation.

Since its onset, the Museum has displayed outdoor sculpture. The earliest pieces were installed in 1965, and included a handful of works made the same year, such as Duayne Hatchett’s Totem Steel #3 and Roger Bolomey’s Sky-Gate. The Sculpture Garden, not unlike an actual garden, grew slowly and organically over the years. As Aldrich acquired pieces, they were added to the grounds, particularly over the Museum’s first decade. Though pieces were installed in 1965, the formal Sculpture Garden was not inaugurated until 1967. This “newly organized garden” flaunted ten new additions, including Anthony Caro’s brilliant-red Jenny, 1966; Robert Bart’s retrofuturistic Untitled, 1966 (fig. 2); and Robert Grosvenor’s canary yellow Untitled, 1968, a 100-foot long sculpture specially commissioned by the Museum.(1) In the coming years, more sculptures were added: Jerome Johnson’s Bridge #1, 1969, was installed in 1971; Alex McFarlane’s Untitled, 1974, was installed in 1974; and Forrest Myers’ Untitled, 1968, was installed in 1975 (fig. 1). By 1976 the Sculpture Garden had twenty-eight works permanently on view. That same year, an article by Martha Scott described Larry Aldrich as “one of the first to take the new giant, nonobjective sculpture out of its customary sheltered context (galleries and museums) into the open air— where it belongs.”(2)

Over the next twenty years, occasional works were added, removed, and reorganized, but many remained installed through the 1990s. While the Museum’s inception was predicated on Mr. Aldrich’s desire to show and store his collection, his commitment to contemporary art and emerging artists would eventually override his commitment to collecting and result in the deaccession of the collection throughout the late 1980s–early 2000s.

After the dismantling of the formal Sculpture Garden, largely dependent on extended loans and collection works, The Aldrich’s curators have consistently populated the Garden through exhibition programming, often working with artists on site-specific outdoor installations or those whose work spans both interior and exterior spaces, such as Virginia Overton (2016), Frank Stella (2020), and Cecile Abish (2022). Additionally, in 2003 the Main Street Sculpture series was initiated, an ongoing program intended to activate the Museum’s front campus with a work of art. The first iteration was a presentation of Nina Levy’s Big Baby, and the twentieth iteration will debut a new work by Moko Fukuyama later this fall. Excitingly, The Aldrich’s sixtieth anniversary year will also bring a multi-million-dollar renovation to the Museum’s grounds and Sculpture Garden that will improve accessibility for visitors, support a sustainable environment, and expand artist opportunities. The newly renovated campus will be inaugurated with a twenty-one-artist group exhibition, A Garden of Promise and Dissent, spanning both indoor and outdoor spaces.

Over the last sixty years, the Sculpture Garden has functioned like a community park, free of charge and open dawn to dusk. In the 1972 Smithsonian oral history interview, Mr. Aldrich recounts: “And a great many people in the nice weather (the Museum opens at two o’clock) will get there at quarter of two and find four or five groups sitting on blankets on the lawn that have brought their lunch and picnic until the Museum opens.”(3) Today, fifty-two years later, when I walk out of the office on a sunny day, I see the same thing and it delights me to know some things haven’t changed.

-Caitlin Monachino, Curatorial and Publications Manager

1. Quoted in “Year’s Highlights in Art Show at Aldrich Museum,” Bridgeport CT Post, May 21, 1967. Robert Grosvenor’s Untitled, 1968, is now in the collection of Art Omi, Ghent, NY.

2. Martha Scott, “An Old Garden, A New Vision,” August 1976

3. Oral history interview with Larry Aldrich, 1972 April 25-June Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

Top image: (Fig. 1) 1975 Installation of Forrest Myers, Untitled, 1968