Tucked in a peaceful space between the National Gallery of Australia building and Lake Burley Griffin is a tranquil garden which just happens to be jam-packed with precious artworks. While cyclists whizz by and joggers work up a sweat on the paths nearby, the sculptures sit unbothered by the rush and wait patiently to be discovered. There are works by Rodin, Gormley, Turrell and many more inviting you to wander and wonder.
The layout among landscaped gardens provides a low key way to enjoy art and nature side by side. The most enchanting aspect of the sculpture garden is watching the weather, shadows and light combining to bring the works to life. Somehow, this feels like the best home for these amazing pieces: its hard to imagine many of them within the confines of the gallery proper.
The plants throughout the sculpture garden are native to Australia broken into seasonal spaces - the winter garden is tucked close to the gallery building and showcases winter-flowering acacias and the earliest figurative works. The summer garden is a shade drenched space near the marsh pond below the casuarina trees. The spring garden is bursting with spring flowering grevilleas and acacias and is closer to the lake. Although the gallery's website says the autumn garden was never fully realised, there is a stunning stand of birch trees which add a brilliant yellow backdrop during that season.
Fujiko Nakaya's whimsical Foggy Wake in the Desert, better known by locals simply as the fog sculpture, is transformed by the breeze and changing light. Depending on the weather, rainbows and sunbeams can create a joyful feeling while rainy days make for a moody and mysterious experience. Regardless of the conditions, taking a walk, run or dance through this sculpture will make you smile.
Like Foggy Wake in the Desert, Bert Flugelman's Cones is another sculpture that is bound to make you smile - the sculpture mirrors the surrounding gardens but also reflects you! The curved shapes distort the reflection which can keep kids (and plenty of adults) amused for ages!
James Turrell's Within Without is another must-see. It is a Skyspace viewing chamber designed to affect the way you see the sky. The structure frames the sky and uses water and light to interact with the changing sky at dawn and dusk. If you can't make it at those times, don't panic - it is equally mesmerising at any time of day.
Heads from the North by Indonesian artist Dadang Christanto is probably the most moving piece in the gardens. The 66 bronze heads floating on the pond are a memorial to victims of violence following an unsuccessful military coup. Seeing this in the rain as the fog crept over to eventually blanket the faces was a touching way to reflect on the story behind the art.
There are many, many more fascinating, provocative and beautiful pieces but part of the fun of the sculpture garden is not knowing what you might find around the next corner. This aspect of discovery adds to the experience of making the sculpture garden a surprising, joyful (and FREE!) experience on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.