Pappajohn Sculpture Park
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I was immediately in love with this place as soon as I saw the rolling, perfectly manicured green lawns juxtaposed with large, unexpected works of art in this gem of a park.
Open from sunrise to midnight, this park, an extension of Des Moines Art Center, makes fine art extremely accessible to everyone by being free to visit and being located in downtown Des Moines. Featuring 31 different pieces, this is a perfect place to stop for a quick picnic on the lawn, or to spend time studying, drawing, or photographing the different works. Some sculptures you’re able to interact with – like Olafur Eliasson’s Panaramic Awareness Pavilion, which offers a completely different experience inside the art versus standing on the outside and observing it.
Be sure to check out the Art Center’s Exploration Guide, which has activities, information about the artists and their work, and all the different ways to interact with some of the sculptures in the park. I’d also highly suggest the audio tour for more in depth information, which is available online or by calling 515-657-8264. If you plan in advance, they also have guided tours available during the summer months (these must be made at least 3 weeks in advance). One thing to keep in mind is that although most of these pieces seem very sturdy, they’re not made to climb on as it can damage them – check the audio tour for the exciting exceptions to this. Be sure to allow everyone to enjoy the park by taking care of your trash, and not eating or drinking near the sculptures.
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Personally, I could spend hours at an art gallery poring over one painting. That’s why I loved this place, it’s the best of both worlds – a museum and park, filled with scenic views and extraordinary and bizarre artwork. One of the most compelling sculptures I saw was Ai Weiwei’s Iron Tree Truck, which was cast from a Chinese tree in iron, representing the “push and pull between nature and industrialization” – which is perfectly fitting for a sculpture park in the middle of a city.
Jeff Flemming, the director of the Des Moines Art Center, described Weiwei as “One of the most significant contemporary artists working today and certainly considered China’s most significant artists”. Each piece here has it’s own story to tell. Whether you have experience with art or not, this park allows you to experience contemporary art in an unusual way, and is well worth the stop.