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Black Atlantic
Photograph: Nicholas Knight

The best outdoor art in NYC this summer

Check out our recommendations for the absolute best outdoor art to see around New York City this summer.

Shaye Weaver
Written by
Shaye Weaver
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New York City is full of free outdoor art that you don't even have to go to a museum to see. Sculptures, murals, and photographs can be found in its parks, sidewalks and on its buildings!

Locations such as the High Line, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum Of Art, Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn and Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens and other NYC locales all have a wide variety of pieces awaiting you, from massive sculptures to eye-popping murals and graffiti.

Best of all, it costs you nothing to pay a visit. Below, find the best outdoor art in NYC this summer!

RECOMMENDED: The best art shows and exhibits in NYC

Best outdoor art in NYC

"Life in the Abstract"
Photograph: Wyatt Kahn, courtesy of The Public Art Fund

1. "Life in the Abstract"

Seven large-scale sculptures by artist Wyatt Kahn made in rust-red Cor-Ten steel are planted in City Hall Park for his first exhibition in public space. These new works are a take on the modernist public sculpture but takes on personal meaning and resonance for the viewer.  Kahn has used “readymade” objects from everyday life like a comb and a phone and a foot about to crush a lightbulb. It will be on view from June 8 through December 11 at City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan.

"Subterranean Tropicália Projects: PN15"
Photograph: Katherine Abbott Photography

2. "Subterranean Tropicália Projects: PN15"

Socrates Sculpture Park is showing the work of late Brazilian artist, Hélio Oiticica, in "Subterranean Tropicália Projects: PN15, 2017/2022." This large-scale immersive environment is based on Oiticica’s never-before-executed proposal from 1971 for Central Park that he conceived while living in New York City. The immersive environment of "PN15" draws inspiration from NYC's thriving underground culture, encouraging visitors to drift through the circular structure of curving corridors for a multi-sensory experience. The installation features plants and image projections that create a play of light, shadow, changes in opacity, framing, and orientation. PN15 will be a space for collective creativity and leisure, dubbed “creleisure” by the artist. It'll be on view through August 14.

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In the middle of Times Square is Pedro Reyes’s "ZERO NUKES," a 30-foot-tall inflatable sculpture that aims to bring people together to address nuclear threat. On view through May 24, the sculpture will serve as a stage for public programs and events designed to spotlight the voices of activists, artists, scientists, and community organizations in the anti-nuclear field, and drive conversations around non-proliferation and disarmament. The program, "Amnesia Atómica" is curated by Pedro Alonzo, who specializes in ambitious artworks in public spaces. The piece itself focuses on the “zero” as a graphic, visual, and conceptual element common to all languages. The structure stands as a symbol of global unity for a single non-controversial cause: to avoid the destruction of life on earth.

"Black Atlantic"
Photograph: Nicholas Knight

4. "Black Atlantic"

"Black Atlantic" is at Brooklyn Bridge Park will bring together new sculptures by artists Leilah Babirye, Hugh Hayden, Dozie Kanu, Tau Lewis, and Kiyan Williams. The artworks are inspired by the diaspora across the Atlantic Ocean that connects Africa with the Americas and Europe and focuses on the complex hybrid identities that have developed through the exchange of culture and ideas over centuries along transatlantic network.

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Created by artist Santi Flores, the monuments are part of the Garment District Alliance's new public art exhibit, "Here," and you'll find them on Broadway between 38th and 41st Streets. You'll notice that each monument boasts the same exact raised hand gesture but looks different in terms of color and "skin." According to the Alliance, those on-the-surface differences represent the diversity and individuality that New Yorkers are known for but also "send a message of unity." The exhibition is completely free to the public and will stay in place through August 29.

"The Burden of Man: Waiting to Breathe"
Photograph: courtesy of Rockefeller Center

6. "The Burden of Man: Waiting to Breathe"

At 45 Rockefeller Plaza, you can find Hugo McCloud’s most monumental work to date, "The Burden of Man: Waiting to Breathe" displayed in the lower concourse. McCloud used single-use plastic bags during the pandemic to interweave narratives, referencing recent international crises both obliquely and directly to address themes of migration, borders, hope, and loss; conditions internationally endemic during the Covid-19 crisis. The work offers the artist’s unique contemporary take on the rich historic traditions of history and mural painting. It'll be on display through June 12.

 

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The MTA just unveiled a brand new subway entrance by Times Square, found within the pedestrian plaza near the corner of 43rd Street. It has a massive new mosaic by artist Nick Cave that commuters can now fully glance at. Commissioned by the MTA's public arts program, the work is called Every One, Each One, Equal All and it is made up of three separate art pieces. Until this week, New Yorkers were only able to see a third of the work, which, at 3,200 square feet, is actually the largest such installation within the subway system. "Times Square is one of the busiest, most diverse and fabulously kinetic places on the planet," Cave said in an official statement. "For this project I took the above ground color, movement and cross-pollination of humanity, bundled it into a powerful and compact energy mass that is taken underground."

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A new art installation that uses augmented reality is transforming Battery Park City into a bird watcher's paradise. Those who walk along Battery Park City's riverfront, from South Cove north along Rockefeller Park, will be able to access an invisible world of birds with their phones.  Named "Bird’s-Eye View," this new artwork by New York City-based artist Shuli Sadé showcases 30 species of birds that seek temporary or permanent refuge near Manhattan’s waterways via photographs and original watercolors by Sadé through the Adobe Aero app and a smartphone camera. All you need to do is scan one of 70 QR codes on any of the 14 signs along the water to view local birds and explore their habitats and migratory patterns.

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"El Toro de Oro" is a new sculpture of a golden bull by Mexican artist Enrique Cabrera that has taken residence in front of the Gansevoort Meatpacking hotel at 18 9th Avenue, on the corner of 13th Street. The piece represents the neighborhood's transformation throughout the last two decades. It will remain on display through Labor Day.

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After taking up residence at Dante Park by Lincoln Center, the Flatiron South Public Plaza and the Girl Scouts of America Building, the iconic "Hippo Ballerina" statue has dubbed Pershing Square Plaza West its new home. The 15-foot-tall and 2.5-ton-heavy tutu-clad bronze sculpture is instantly recognizable and, this time, it will be on display alongside two other statues—"Hippo Ballerina, pirouette" and "Rhino Harlequin, pirouette—"as part of the New York City Department of Transportation's Art Program. You'll find all three monuments on the west side of Park Avenue between East 41st and East 42nd Streets, right in front of Grand Central Station, through the end of December.

 

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If you're planning on walking the High Line in the upcoming months, don't miss a new large-scale bronze replica of our very own Statue of Liberty wearing a cartoonish mask. It's taken up residence inside the public park at 16th Street. "You know who I am" is the work of artist Paola Pivi, as commissioned by High Line Art and it will stay put through March 2023. The mask donned by the 23-feet-high sculpture will change every two months. The stories behind each mask—including one inspired by Pivi's own son—will be explored on the High Line's website.

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Central Park has a new female figure at the Doris C. Freedman Plaza at Fifth Avenue and 60th Street. A life-size (five feet, six inches) bronze sculpture of photographer Diane Arbus stands with her camera pointed at the oncoming crowds as she might've been seen in the 1950s and 60s. Her finger is on the shutter button and her shoes have been painted to humanize the sculpture. A plaque features a quote from Arbus: "If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic." The sculpture, brought to the park by the Public Art Fund, is by artist Gillian Wearing.

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The next time you visit Flushing Meadows Corona Park you may notice a pretty awesome new sculpture smack-dab in the middle of David Dinkins Circle: the bronze bust of Queens-born hip-hop artist LL Cool J. The piece, dubbed "Going Back to the Meadows," is the work of sculptor Sherwin Banfield, who was born in Trinidad but was also raised in Queens. The installation will remain on display through November 23, 2022. The sculpture of the artist, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just a few months ago, depicts him atop a steel radio and pedestal frame that features references to LL Cool J's career. What's most interesting, though, is the solar-powered audio setup right below the bust. In fact, the sculpture features a set of speakers that are timed to play LL Cool J's music from Noon to 5pm every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Now that's some immersive art!

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A new fiberglass sculpture by artist Sam Durant "hovers" on the High Line at 30th St that will cut a dramatic figure across the skyline. The sculpture is in the shape of a large Predator drone (It has a wingspan of 48 feet!) and will tilt in the wind almost like an actual military aircraft. Except, you know, without the weapons.

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The ghostly figure of a shed now rises out of the Hudson River near Pier 52 and it's one of the largest public art projects completed in the U.S. this year, according to the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sculpture, named Day's End by its creator David Hammond, is made of slender steel pipes that reach 52 feet at its peak and together measure 325 feet long and 65 feet wide. It pays tribute to an artist, Gordon Matta-Clark, who transformed an abandoned shed that once sat on Pier 52 as well as to the history of the city's waterfront. In 1975, he carved massive openings into the shed, which he described as a "temple to sun and water," according to the Whitney, which proposed the public art installation.

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Originally installed by public park Bowling Green in lower Manhattan back in 2017, Fearless Girl is the work of artist Kristen Visbal as commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. The bronze sculpture was moved away from its first location in 2010, following complaints that it was distracting tourists from the Charging Bull statue that is also found there. The outline of Fearless Girl's footprints is still by the downtown park, though, and folks are encouraged to "stand for her" while in the area. The statue itself has been standing tall and strong in front of the New York Stock Exchange for a few years now. No matter where our girl stands, one thing's for sure: women are making strides all around the country and we should celebrate them today and forevermore. More recently, State Street Global Advisors installed a broken glass ceiling surrounding Fearless Girl to celebrate both her fourth anniversary and International Women's Day. A nearby plaque reads: "Today's broken glass ceilings are tomorrow's stepping stones."
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"LOVE" by Robert Indiana
Photograph: Christopher Stach, © 2018 Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy Kasmin Gallery

17. "LOVE" by Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana’s LOVE series is among the most enduring icons of ’60s Pop Art, second only, perhaps, to Andy Warhol’s Campbells Soup cans. Rather than being an appropriation of some sort of product, brand or image, however, LOVE is a graphic invention by Indiana, who originally created the design in 1965 for the Museum of Modern Art’s annual Christmas card. Using a bold serif font, Indiana stacked LOVE’s first two letters atop its last two, with the O insouciantly tilted to one side. The work became his signature, and in 1970, he made the first of many LOVE sculptures. The three versions installed on the rooftop sculpture garden of Kasmin Gallery’s High Line adjacent location offer a multilingual twist, with iterations of the word in Hebrew (AHAVA) and Spanish (AMOR) as well as in English.    

See it at the Paul Kasmin Sculpture Garden at 509 W 27th Street.

"Rose III" by Isa Genzken
Photograph: Timothy Schenck, Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York

18. "Rose III" by Isa Genzken

Weighing in at 1,000 pounds, Isa Genzken's Rose III was unveiled on the seventh anniversary of Occupy Wall Street’s takeover of Zuccotti Park. Genzken works in a wide range of mediums, and giant flowers have been a recurring theme for her: A similar rose sculpture was installed on the New Museum’s facade from 2010 to 2013, while a pair of gargantuan white orchids (rising to 28 and 34 feet respectively) stood at Doris C. Freedman Plaza in front of Central Park during the spring and summer of 2016. As for Rose III, it remains on long term view.

See it at Zuccotti Park. 

 

Check out this week’s top art shows

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