Over the last year, we’ve been told repeatedly to keep our activities outdoors. Fortunately for art lovers, the U.S. is bursting with sculpture parks, rail trails, college campuses, and city streets where you can get your aesthetic fix. Here are our 10 favorite places to see colorful murals, natural earthworks, massive installations, and more.
Storm King Art Center
Cornwall, New York
Founded in 1960 in New York’s Hudson Valley, the Storm King Art Center is home to dramatic, largescale sculptures and site-specific earthworks that punctuate a 500-acre landscape of hills, fields, and forest.
The permanent outdoor collection is a can’t-miss for fans of modern and contemporary art. It includes pieces by 128 artists from around the world, including Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt, Menashe Kadishman (whose gravity-defying sculpture Suspended is pictured above), and Maya Lin.
In 2008, Lin completed the staggering Storm King Wavefield, an 11-acre opus made up of seven giant waves—each nearly 400 feet long and 10 to 15 feet high—constructed entirely from earth and grass. In May, Storm King will debut its latest site-specific commission, a reflective sculpture by Sarah Sze called Fallen Sky, during a special exhibition devoted to the New York–based artist.
DeCordova Sculpture Park and Museum
Set near picturesque Flint’s Pond in leafy Lincoln, Massachusetts, some 20 miles west of Boston, deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum’s 30 peaceful, intimate acres are home to dozens of sculptures by 20th- and 21st-century artists such as Antony Gormley, Ursula von Rydingsvard, and Dan Graham.
The styles range from abstract and anthropomorphic (Aaron Curry’s colorful aluminum 2013 sculpture, Ugly Mess) to subtle and serene (Ron Rudnicki’s 2000 installation Rain Gates, which is constructed from granite, water, and plantings).
Don’t miss Alan Sonfist’s 2013 installation, The Endangered Species of New England. Set on a grassy embankment just below the museum building, the poignant piece features four giant aluminum leaves, each representing a native New England tree whose population is dwindling. Buried beneath each leaf is a capsule filled with seeds.
Encircling the core of Georgia’s capital city, the Atlanta BeltLine is a former railway corridor turned urban redevelopment project made up of modern residential buildings, retail businesses, and green spaces. The beating heart of the BeltLine is a multiuse trail that’s chockfull of dog walkers, joggers, and cyclists. The buzzy Eastside Trail and quieter Westside Trail have become go-to spots for Atlantans to enjoy outdoor art, with a constantly evolving collection of graffiti works, sculptures, murals, and special exhibitions on view around every turn.
Highlights on the Eastside Trail include selections from Johnny Crawford’s The Vietnam Black Soldiers Portrait Project and David Landis’s arresting rhino sculpture, Northern White. On the Westside Trail, don’t miss William Massey’s collaborative found-art sculpture, The Art of Reconciliation, or Allen Peterson’s interactive piece, Atlanta’s Giant Music Box.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
A 50-foot-long spoon cradling a giant crimson cherry (Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry) and a towering cerulean rooster (Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock) are among the wonders that await visitors to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden.
Established in 1988 and located partially on the grounds of the Walker Art Center, the urban park is open year-round. Its collection of modern and contemporary works includes sculptures and installations by artists such as Ellsworth Kelly and Jenny Holzer.
The Garden, as it’s known to locals, is also home to James Turrell’s Sky Pesher. The subterranean room, from which visitors can gaze up at the sky as lights change color around them, is one of many “Skyspaces” the Arizona-based artist has created around the world. For those who can’t make it to Minnesota, the “Garden Stories” series provides virtual, behind-the-scenes tours of select pieces.
Seven Magic Mountains
Drivers passing through the desert on Interstate 15 can be excused for thinking they’re hallucinating when they spot a series of neon-colored rock towers about 20 miles south of the Las Vegas Strip, but the spectacle is most certainly not a mirage. It’s Seven Magic Mountains, a large-scale creation by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone. Erected in 2016, the seven totems soar 30 to 35 feet into the sky and are made from stacked, locally-sourced boulders painted blaze orange, electric pink, acid yellow, and other shockingly bright colors.
For the piece, Rondinone has said that he chose a location that is “physically and symbolically midway between the natural,” which is represented by the surrounding desert and mountains, “and the artificial,” which is represented by the highway and the constant traffic buzzing between Las Vegas and Los Angeles.
While in the area, ambitious art lovers can also make the 80-mile trek northeast from Las Vegas to the site of Michael Heizer’s 1969 work of land art, Double Negative, two long trenches the artist cut into Mormon Mesa.
Museum Without Walls
With thousands of creations scattered around the city—from the colorful street art of Graffiti Pier to the whimsical mosaics of Magic Gardens—Philadelphia is home to one of the largest assortments of outdoor public art in the United States.
Dozens of guided tours are available. DIYers can explore at their own pace thanks to a number of self-guided itineraries curated by the Association for Public Art. The organization also offers the Museum Without Walls: Audio program (available online, by phone, and by mobile app). The program introduces listeners to gems such as Carl Milles’s Playing Angels via an interactive map. It provides a more in-depth experience with recorded stories by artists, educators, civic leaders, and other figures with personal or cultural connections to featured works.
University of Houston
You don’t have to be a student at the University of Houston to enjoy the school’s staggering collection of public art. The collection includes nearly 700 objects across four main campuses and three satellite sites. Simply start your exploration by pre-registering for a free, self-guided tour of the Downtown campus, which is home to Carlos Cruz-Diez’s perception-bending Double Physichromie (the late artist’s first permanent public commission in the U.S.) and Lawrence Argent’s trio of gargantuan gourd-like sculptures, Your Move. Space City’s public art riches extend far beyond the UH system, as well; visit houstonartsmap.com to plan the perfect route.
Rail Arts District
Napa may be a hallowed destination for wine lovers, but it has lots to offer art buffs, too. The Rail Arts District Napa, or RAD Napa, was founded in 2016 as a free outdoor contemporary art museum. It’s part of an initiative to reinvigorate the city’s industrial core.
Stretching for two miles along the Napa Valley Vine Trail bike and pedestrian path and the railroad tracks, RAD Napa features several eye-popping murals blanketing the exteriors of warehouses and other buildings such as Los Angeles–based street artist Bumblebeelovesyou’s Jack and Jill. Plus a dozen railroad signal boxes are colorfully “wrapped” by local and regional artists. Edible gardens, pollinator habitats, and other public-friendly features are all part of the master plan for the still-evolving cultural corridor.
You can download a map from RAD Napa’s website for a self-guided tour by bike or foot, or view the art while riding the Napa Valley Wine Train. While you’re in town, be sure to stop by the Napa Art Walk, an outdoor sculpture exhibit whose theme changes every two years.
The current show, Sense of Place, features works by artists from the American West and is on display until April 2021. The following exhibit, Play, installs kinetic artworks starting this July.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Set at the edge of Elliott Bay, just a mile north of the Seattle Art Museum, the 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Park doubles as the Emerald City’s largest downtown green space. The park’s four distinct zones are linked by a Z-shaped path, making it easy for visitors to stroll among a landscape of native plants and contemporary sculptures.
Photo worthy works include the five towering, serpentine steel modules of Richard Serra’s 2004 Wake; Jaume Plensa’s arresting Echo, a serene, 46-foot-tall face; Split, a 5,000-pound stainless-steel tree by Roxy Paine; and The Eagle, a fiery red abstract sculpture by Alexander Calder. Some works, such as Louise Bourgeois’s Eye Benches I, II and III, and Teresita Fernández’s Seattle Cloud Cover, invite viewers to linger and take in the gorgeous surroundings, including Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
Developer Tony Goldman founded the Wynwood Walls in 2009 to revitalize a formerly derelict Miami warehouse district. It’s now one of the most popular places in the U.S. to see graffiti and street art. You can wander among the outdoor museum’s sprawling warehouses, which are covered in murals by 50-plus artists from around the world.
Among the standouts is the mural by Los Angeles–based artist Shepard Fairey (pictured above). Shepard is the creator of the 2008 Obama campaign’s now-iconic “Hope” poster—which touches on human rights and climate change. Adjacent sites, including Wynwood Doors, the Wynwood Walls Garden, and Outside the Walls, afford the opportunity to explore art on different backdrops, as well as landscaped green spaces.