You don’t need to drag your family through an art museum full of velvet ropes and centuries-old paintings to experience art culture. Right now, a lot of great art in the world is free, and it’s right outside. Outdoor art is rising in popularity, as more creative citizens and artists are getting the chance to exhibit their work where the public can enjoy it. From street art to whimsical statues and sculptures where the main medium is cars, you can find amazing pieces of art to admire without paying the price of admission.
“Dancers” is a piece where extremely thin, 60-foot tall figures are captured mid-glide, outside the Denver Center for Performing Arts. Installed in 2003, this piece is a 25-ton steel and fiberglass sculpture that captures two figures frozen in a eternal moment of dancing. The two figures are surrounded by ground-level speakers which play the song “Let’s Dance” on a loop. Denver appears to love unique art on a huge scale, as evidenced by other pieces around the city. “The Yearling,” depicts a small horse on a mammoth chair watching over visitors to the Denver Central Public Library. Another piece has a vintage car hanging vertically over a reflective pool by the Museum of Contemporary Art, titled “Between Life and Death.”
The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program began in 1984, when some young graffiti taggers were given the option to go to jail, or help to beautify their city. Now the program contracts about two hundred artists and puts over $2.2 million into the art community annually. The result is the “World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery,” with over 2,000 pieces of art painted on the sides of buildings and available to the public. The Love Letter Train is a treasure hunt of 50 murals by Stephen Powers, which combines to form a love letter. The Mural Arts website has pictures of the murals around town, and the addresses where you can find them so you can build your own walking tour.
“Cadillac Ranch” is a public art installation made up of old Cadillac cars, half-buried in the Texas dirt. The sculpture was created in 1974, and the artists buried the brightly colored Caddies with the same corresponding angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The cars are buried in chronological order to show the evolution of the Cadillac from 1949 to 1963. You can see Cadillac Ranch from the highway, and visitors are encouraged to enter the private land on which it is located for a visit. You’re even encouraged to write your own graffiti on the cars, as the vehicles are periodically repainted. But until the next time they’re recolored, you can contribute to this piece of art.
Manhattan, New York
Nathan Sawaya’s is known for his “Hugman” sculptures, which can be found in Dublin, Melbourne, and Los Angeles. In Clement Clarke Moore Park, Manhattan, you will find one such “Hugman” - the figure of a man constructed entirely from different colored Legos, hugging a tree. His other works hug fences, bike racks, and even signs to interact with their surroundings. After admiring this life-sized Lego creation, you might be tempted to go home and try your creative hand with the blocks.
Seattle’s Carkeek Park is full of artwork that alludes to nature, or “eco-artworks” for local art fans to wander through and admire. This year, one of the installations is “Sky Feeder,” which consists of 238 circular mirrors mounted on poles to reflect the sky back onto itself. The mirrors look like flowers on stems, showing bits of clouds and tree leaves. Arranged together in concentric circles, the mirrors create one larger reflection that Stern says “gathers in the sky.” The piece is simplistic, but quite touching.
The town of Alliance has its own “Stonehenge,” with a twist. The replica is not made up of large standing stones, but grey cars placed vertically and horizontally to form the same mysterious circle of pillars as the original. The 38 cars are all vintage American automobiles, covered in gray spray-paint to complete the likeness. Three foreign cars were “buried” at the site, which was dedicated at the June 1987 summer solstice. Reinders studied Stonehenge while he lived in England, and decided to make his version as a memorial to his father. The cars don’t mock Stonehenge, but make the mysterious stones more familiar as we view them from a modern lense.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Artist Rashida Ferdinand grew up in New Orleans as a fifth-generation resident of the 9th ward, and as an adult she gave her art back to the city. Her steel and ceramic sculpture, Mandala, is now displayed on a path she used to frequent as a child on Claiborne Ave & Caffin Street. A mandala is a geometric symbol used in Hindu and Buddhism, and may also represent a dreamer’s search for completeness. This piece is meant to be a visual representation of the journeys and passageways of life for the New Orleans residents. Although there was nothing surrounding the piece when it was first installed in 2008, it is now encompassed by trees and buildings which have grown around it.
“Cocoon” seems a bit more like a stainless-steel, LED-it tumbleweed that a place where a caterpillar would metamorphisize. But that does not detract from the piece – Cocoon looks a bit wild with some of the curved bars broken and pointing to the sky, as if the butterfly has already hatched and abandoned it. The piece was installed on the edge of Tucson, along a path where people could walk under it, ride through it, or just stop and admire the creation. The road doesn’t have many other attractions to offer, but the piece is a great place to visit at night when it’s aglow with the small luminosity cast from Cocoon’s lights.
Louisville, Kentucky, is a place rich in street art. The graffiti art is everywhere, and if you need proof you can visit the Louisville Street Art website. The site is used to keep track of most of the murals and is perfect for visitors. You can peruse for your favorite pieces, jot down the address, and then go visit in person. “Kentucky Rushmore” is one of the better-known pieces in the city. The mural is an homage to American icons produced by the state of Kentucky: Mohammad Ali, Abraham Lincoln, Colonel Sanders, and Secretariat, all painted in monochrome on an orange background. Although most people think of bigger cities when it comes to street art, Louisville is like a museum where you can plan the tour.
New York City, New York
“Split-Rocker” is a whimsical combination of two children’s rocking horses (at least, from the neck above), split down the middle to make a pony-dinosaur hybrid. Koons was inspired to build the 37-foot stainless-steel creation by his son’s rocking horse and toy dinosaur. The installation, located in New York’s Rockefeller Center, is covered in over 50,000 begonias, geraniums, petunias, etc and has its own internal irrigation system. What could have been a frightening sculpture if only made up of steel is softened by the flowers, making it more creative than alarming. The “Split-Rocker” sits where the annual Christmas Tree is set up, and is related to Koons’s previous piece, “Puppy.”