You never know what you might find around the next corner at Grounds for Sculpture.
Originally part of the New Jersey State Fairgrounds, Grounds for Sculpture is a 42-acre sculpture park and the brainchild of contemporary artist and philanthropist J. Seward Johnson II. Johnson is the grandson of Johnson & Johnson’s co-founder and, in 1986, was involved in the largest inheritance contest in the history of New York after his father, the heir to the Johnson fortune, excluded him and his five siblings from his will. The lawsuit was settled out of court, with the children dividing up about 12 percent of the $350 million estate.
Opened in 1992, the park draws visitors for both its sculpture collection and its exquisitely landscaped site, complete with more than 2,000 rose bushes, 1,000 trees, and other flower beds and shrubbery. So far, it’s living up to its mission to promote a wide appreciation for and understanding of contemporary sculpture.
As far as the sculptures go, many were created by Johnson himself, internationally famous for his lifelike bronze figures of ordinary people engaged in everyday situations. If you have a sharp eye, you’ll see them hidden in plain sight all around the park, sitting on benches and lounging in fields. Other figures are discreetly hidden around contours in the landscape or in other unusual places and need to be discovered by visitors (see if you can spot the two kids dangerously cavorting up high on the edge of a roof!). Johnson is also known for his interest in the works of impressionist painters. Grounds for Sculpture includes Johnson’s life-size three-dimensional reimagining of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party and there’s a sculpture of van Gogh painting Café Terrace at Night…with the park’s own van Gogh-inspired café cleverly sitting in as the painter’s subject!
But Johnson’s creations represent just the tip of the sculpture iceberg at Grounds for Sculpture. The constantly growing and evolving collection currently numbers about 300 pieces. There are sculptures made of wood, plastic, metal, stone, paper, and other materials. Many of the pieces were created by some of the world’s most famous sculpture artists, including George Segal, Isaac Witkin, Anthony Caro, and Magdalena Abakanowicz. Some are small, some are monstrous, and others are literally of monsters!
In addition to the outdoor sculpture park, Grounds for Sculpture also features exhibitions in six indoor galleries, several of which are housed in the original fairgrounds buildings. A large, modern welcome center building includes a café, gift shop, and museum. Rat’s is a gourmet restaurant that overlooks a Monet-inspired sculpture garden and serves lunch and dinner.