We often think of art viewing as an indoor experience, moving through museums and galleries to experience painting and sculpture. But some of the best art can be seen blended with nature. Sculpture gardens, or sculpture parks, have a long history. For centuries collectors and artists have brought together monumental sculpture and placed it against nature, with institutions finding the allure of art and environment and attractive calling card for visitors.
Across the world, the best sculpture parks encourage viewers to fan out, mill the grounds and stumble upon incredible works of art. Typically focused on modernist and contemporary artists, most have both permanent collections and a set of rotating exhibitions for a different experience year round. We take a look at some of the top sculpture parks around the world, from a 16th-century “monster” park to a converted landfill, that prove you can travel the world and see great art without ever stepping foot indoors.
The best sculptures parks around the world let you enjoy world-class art while strolling in nature.
Socrates Sculpture Park
Long Island City, Queens, New York
In 1986, artist Mark di Suvero led a group of community members in transforming this former landfill and illegal dumpsite into a premiere sculpture park. Now, almost 90,000 people a year visit the site, which is open 365 days a year. Socrates Sculpture Park has rotating exhibitions, as well as permanent sculptures and a wide range of community activities, including an outdoor cinema and farmers market during the summer.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Created by the Seattle Art Museum in 2007, this 8.5-acre green area has a sculpture park and beach. The park contains both a permanent collection and visiting installations, and includes pieces by Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, and Ellsworth Kelly. Located on what was once a contaminated industrial brownfield, the waterfront park is one of the city’s only green spaces and unique for offering free admission to visitors.
Ekebergparken Sculpture Park
Located just outside Oslo’s city center, this sculpture park was financed by art collector Christian Ringes and opened in 2013. Work by Louise Bourgeouis, Salvador Dalí, and Jenny Holzer are just some of the masterpieces in this incredible collection of modern and contemporary sculpture. Aside from the art, the park also affords sweeping views over the Norwegian capital.
Bomarzo, Viterbo, Italy
Bomarzo, also know at the Park of Monsters, is a 16th-century garden located 90 minutes outside of Rome, in northern Lazio. The larger than life grotesque figures carved out of bedrock are prime examples of monumental Mannerist sculptures. The park regained recognition in the 1950s when Salvador Dalí made a short film about the park, prompting a restoration of the grounds.
de Cordova Sculpture Park and Museum
The 30-acre sculpture park and museum is the largest of its kind in New England. Founded in 1950, the park contains more than 60 modern and contemporary works and also continually changes its landscape due to site-specific installations. Significant 20th and 21st-century artists represented include Sol LeWitt, Antony Gormley, and Nam June Paik.
St. Paul de Vence, France
Located just a few miles from the French Mediterranean coast, this museum was created by the Maeght family and Spanish artist Joan Miró in the 1960s. Sculptures by heavy hitters such as Miró, Alberto Giacometti, and Alexander Calder populate the garden and internal courtyard.
Storm King Art Center
Cornwall, New York
Founded in 1960, the Storm King Art Center spreads over 500 acres of land and is just one hour north of Manhattan. Its collection of contemporary sculpture is known as the strongest in the United States, with works by Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Alexander Calder, Sol LeWitt, and Roy Lichtenstein. In addition to the permanent collection, the sculpture park features rotating exhibitions throughout the year.
Hakone Open-Air Museum
Hakone, Ashigarashimo District, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan
Known for its spectacular views of Mount Fuji, Hakone is also home to Japan’s first open-air art museum. It features a large collection of works by British master Henry Moore, as well as 100 other works of modern and contemporary sculpture by Japanese and international artists. And if you want to move indoors, the Picasso Pavillion features a large collection of ceramics purchased from the painter’s daughter.
Laumeier Sculpture Park
Sunset Hills, Missouri
About 300,000 people a year made the pilgrimage to Laumeier Sculpture Park just outside St. Louis. Originally a park opened in 1968 as a memorial to Matilda C. Laumeier’s deceased husband Henry, it began attracting visitors when a local sculptor donated 40 pieces of his work in the 1970s. It has now become a symbolic attraction of the city, its signature sculpture by Alexander Liberman—The Way—was constructed on site in 1980 and is created from 18 salvaged steel oil tanks. The modernist work is meant to create an impact akin to Greek and Roman temples. The park also runs art classes, summer camps, and holds an annual art fair over Mother’s Day weekend.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
West Breton, Yorkshire, England
Located in West Yorkshire, England, the park is the UK’s first sculpture park and has a strong collection of British and international sculptures. The 500-acre grounds feature a permanent collection, as well as rotating exhibitions. Classic modernists like Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth are right at home next to the cutting-edge contemporary exhibitions the YSP is known for. Last year the park hosted a highly-acclaimed exhibition by KAWS—known for collaborations with Kayne West and Pharrell—and is currently exhibiting sculptures by Ai Weiwei. The park is open free of charge and visitors can even bring along their dogs to enjoy the art.
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