From Our Archive
This story was published before Summer 2021, when we launched our new digital experience.

Outdoor Public Art to See Now

Once upon a time, public art meant bronze or marble war memorials, and landscaped public plazas were their settings. The works, often tied to important events, were expected to remain in place forever. 

Then came the great midcentury modernist sculptors—Henry Moore, Alexander Calder—who still worked with stone and metal but ventured into abstract forms. Among their progeny, Claes Oldenburg made Pop Art three-dimensional and Richard Serra tested the limits of size. 

Nowadays, new materials and methods are allowing for bigger and brighter (and some might say gaudier) art. Budgets have increased as the art world has become a global business, allowing for sculptures that take armies to create and for high-tech systems that intensify and multiply effects. (Some cities even have laws requiring that one percent of the cost of any new public construction project be earmarked for art.) 

Also multiplying are the possible locations—places like highway underpasses, billboards, country roads and grassy nooks in public parks. And yet, many new artworks aren’t designed to stay put: Some are world travelers, having already been exhibited in places like Hong Kong and Basel, Switzerland. Others last mere hours, ephemeral pieces that live on in our conversations—and, of course, on social media. Here, we pick 10 of the coolest public artworks on view now, from New York to Chicago to Seattle.


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