Not all galleries need walls, and experiencing great art shouldn’t be limited to hushed indoor confines. While outdoor art is nothing new — sculpture gardens have been around since the time of the Neanderthals — viewing it in the open air has taken on added appeal since the beginning of the pandemic. Some installations are fleeting, such as Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s avant-garde wrapping installations, while others — like Cow Parade, the largest public art event in the world — move from place to place. Here are 15 of the most interesting and iconic outdoor art experiences in the world.
Light at Sensorio (Paso Robles, California)
While camping at Australia’s Uluru rock formation, artist Bruce Munro imagined “a landscape of illuminated stems that, like dormant seeds in a dry desert, quietly wait until darkness falls, under a blazing blanket of southern stars, to bloom with gentle rhythms of light.” His resulting artwork, entitled Field of Light, has been installed at locations around the world, and, as of 2022, is at Sensorio in California’s Paso Robles wine country. Light at Sensorio is composed of more than 58,000 stemmed spheres and 69 light towers made of more than 17,000 wine bottles. Illuminated by fiber optics, the “flowers” of light sway and glow in this mesmerizing display..
Levens Hall (Kendal, England)
Art comes in many forms, and in England’s lovely Lake District, that form is green. Levens Hall is an Elizabethan mansion constructed around a 13th-century pele (stone fortification). The oldest topiary garden in the world, it features more than 100 living sculptures adorning 10 acres of gardens. Guillaume Beaumont, who was the gardener to King James II, designed the garden in 1694. Still laid out in the original design, the gardens at Levens Hall also have an orchard, a rose garden, and — allegedly — a generous number of ghosts, including a small black dog who has been known to chase visitors.
Ekebergparken (Oslo, Norway)
Rodin, Renoir, and Salvador Dalí are some of the big names you’ll find at this 25-acre sculpture park in Oslo. Although open only since 2013, the permanent collection is impressive — and enhanced with temporary installations like performance art events by Marina Abramović. While you’re in Oslo, don’t miss visiting another gorgeous collection of sculptures at Vigeland Park, which has more than 200 works by Gustav Vigeland, who designed the medal for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Storm King Art Center (New Windsor, New York)
About an hour north of New York City in the Hudson Valley is a giant’s playground, where hills undulate in waves, hulking steel forms balance precariously over grassy landscapes, and a pop-art mermaid swims on a sailboat, surrounded by a pond. Established in 1960, the 500-acre Storm King property contains an incredible collection by household-name artists like Alexander Calder and Roy Lichtenstein. Wander through the park on foot, or explore it by bicycle or tram. Storm King isn’t the only sculpture experience in the Hudson Valley, either: Make a weekend of it and visit Opus 40 and DIA Beacon.
Sonic Bloom (London, England)
Come blow your horn at sound artist Yuri Suzuki’s aural art exhibition in Mayfair’s Brown Hart Gardens. The colorful collection of Dr. Seuss-esque instruments encourages people to connect through sound after the isolation of the pandemic. If you can’t make it to Mayfair, a digital site converts visitors' voices into flower animations, which are then randomly “planted” on a map of Mayfair. Looking to experience more outdoor art in London? Don’t miss Frieze Sculpture on the grounds of Regent Park from September through mid-November.
Hakone Open-Air Museum (Hakone, Japan)
Opened in 1969, the Hakone Open-Air Museum was the first of its kind in Japan. Located about 45 minutes from Yokohama, the museum has stunning views of the surrounding countryside (including snow-capped Mount Fuji) and is near the otherworldly red Torii Shinto Gateway on the shores of Lake Ashinoko. At the museum, visitors can admire more than 1,000 modern masterpieces by sculptors such as Henry Moore and Medardo Rosso, and the indoor Picasso Pavilion has 300-plus works by the Spanish legend. Elsewhere in Japan, the Setouchi Triennale brings numerous new artworks to the 12 islands and ports of Takamatsu and Uno in 2022, and many are exhibited outdoors.
Destination Crenshaw (Los Angeles, California)
The largest public exhibition by Black artists in the United States unfolds along Crenshaw Boulevard in Los Angeles’ historically Black neighborhood. Scheduled for completion in fall 2022, Destination Crenshaw will feature more than 100 works by Black artists with ties to the city, and include a 1.3-mile-long open-air museum, eight parks, and more than 800 newly planted trees and four additional acres of green space. The ongoing project aims to bring additional jobs and environment and economic vitality to the neighborhood, while highlighting the history and rich cultural contributions of the Black community in Los Angeles.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park (Wakefield, England)
Covering 500 acres on a historic 18th-century estate, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, founded in 1977, is the U.K.’s first sculpture park and the largest of its kind in Europe. More than 100 works from the biggest names in modern and contemporary sculpture are found here, including pieces from Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Damien Hirst, Ai Weiwei, and Andy Goldsworthy. Rotating exhibitions accent the astounding permanent collection. Until you're in Leeds, connect with the park via a digital app that allows for virtual exploration of the park, along with statements by artists and curators.
Olympic Sculpture Park (Seattle, Washington)
A photographer’s delight, Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park covers nine waterfront acres and features more than two dozen permanent installations, including Jaume Plensa’s meditative Echo and Alexander Calder’s brilliant red The Eagle, as well as frequent temporary installations. Free and open to the public 365 days a year, the park overlooks Puget Sound and is only a mile from the Seattle Art Museum. If glass is your thing, don’t miss the fantastically fragile “flowers” blooming at the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Seeing the Invisible (Jerusalem, Israel, and 11 Other Locations)
Only visible in augmented reality, Seeing the Invisible features works by 13 artists such as Ai Weiwei and Isaac Julien that are simultaneously on display at 12 botanical gardens in the United States, Britain, South Africa, Australia, Israel, and Canada. Viewed on a smartphone or tablet, the art appears on screens as an overlay on the gardens’ flora. The gardens all present the same exhibition, but the works are augmented into the unique surroundings of each garden, so the exhibition is experienced differently in each location.
Stuart Collection (San Diego, California)
With an enchanted forest of eucalyptus trees that recite poetry, an 18-ton teddy bear, and a crooked house perched atop a seven-story building, you might think you’re in Alice’s Wonderland. Instead, you’re on the campus of the University of California at San Diego, exploring the 22 site-specific modern art installations that make up the university’s quirky Stuart Collection. Created in 1981 and funded by private donations, the exhibit features one-of-a-kind works by groundbreaking artists, interwoven with the campus and available to students and visitors 24 hours a day. Pack a picnic and explore the works scattered across the 1,200-acre campus, and be sure to stop inside the Geisel Library, which is a work of art in its own right.
Qatar Museums Public Arts (Qatar)
Qatar is hosting the FIFA World Cup in November 2022, and the Qatar Museum has used that event to launch a massive public art initiative. Forty sculptures by local and international artists are being installed across the capital of Doha and throughout the country, in sites including transit areas, shopping plazas, parks, athletic facilities, and the stark Qatar desert. In total, there will be more than 100 works of public art, with pieces by luminaries such as Richard Serra, Subodh Gupta, and Louise Bourgeois.
Denver Public Art (Denver, Colorado)
In 1988, Denver mayor Federico Peña established the Denver Public Art Program. Since then, the Mile High City has set aside 1% of every capital improvement project over $1 million for the inclusion of art. The result is a city with more than 400 sculptures, murals, and mosaics, where visitors at the airport are greeted by a 32-foot-tall blue mustang with glowing red eyes, and conventioneers are watched over by a 40-foot-tall bear. At the Performing Arts Complex, giant fiberglass dancers are frozen mid-sway to music that plays 24 hours a day.
The Living Desert and Sculptures (Broken Hill, Australia)
The rugged and rustic Living Desert State Park is located deep in the Outback of Far West New South Wales, Australia. Established in 1992, the site covers almost 6,000 acres of protected flora and fauna and features campsites perfect for viewing stars in the inky night skies. But it’s the 12 sandstone sculptures, silhouetted from their hilltop perch, that draw art lovers from around the world. An otherworldly marriage of art and nature, they were carved in 1993 by a group of international artists and are slowly eroding back into the earth from which they were formed. Sunset is an especially breathtaking time to photograph the statues, as the dipping sun turns them from brown to red.
Another Place (Liverpool, England)
Acclaimed sculptor Antony Gormley cast 100 life-sized replicas of his own body, each weighing nearly 1,500 pounds, using 17 different molds. After installations in Germany, Norway, and Belgium, the artist’s cast-iron doppelgängers have found a permanent home, looking out at the horizon toward Ireland from their positions on Crosby Beach. The statues comprising Another Place become more or less visible with the ebbing and flowing of tides, a feature that highlights man’s relationship with nature.