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Oracle
Photograph: Daniel Greer

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

By Shaye Weaver
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New York City is full of incredible art but you don't have to go to a museum to catch it all. 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 huge pyramid-esque sculptures to eye-popping murals.

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

RECOMMENDED: The best art shows and exhibits in NYC

Best outdoor art in NYC

Dancing Pumpkin Yayoi Kusama
Dancing Pumpkin Yayoi Kusama
Photograph: Courtesy Ota Fine Arts and David Zwirner

1. "KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature"

News Art

Iconic Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama has officially taken over the New York Botanical Garden with her whimsical pumpkins and flower sculptures. Not to mention, one of her popular infinity rooms. Her landmark exhibition, "KUSAMA: Cosmic Nature," is on glorious display all across the garden in four different experiences on its landscape, in and around the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory and in the LuEsther T. Mertz Library Building. Visitors will come across her sculptures and installations almost randomly, like you might happen upon a beautiful flower in nature. Her work makes you stop in your tracks and connect with it.

Lincoln Center The Green
Lincoln Center The Green
Photograph: Shaye Weaver/Time Out

2. "The Green"

News City Life

The Green is the shining jewel of Lincoln Center's Restart Stages program, which brings back performing arts to the area, and spans about 14,000 square feet around the Revson Fountain with grass-like material by SYNLawn New York that's recyclable and sourced from U.S. farmers. The new park-like area shows curved, grassy slopes and ample space for sunbathing and relaxing. In the northeast corner, visitors can even grab a snack. Set designer and MacArthur Genius grantee Mimi Lien was commissioned by Lincoln Center to design the space. The SYNLawn, ramps and curved pieces are designed with accessibility in mind and even implements cane detection for the blind in its architecture. The curves in the grass were actually inspired by the Metropolitan Opera House's arches. In the past, people walked through the plaza to get to various performances or visit the fountain, but now, the plaza will be a place of respite.

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At-Home Heroes: An Homage to Parenting Through a Pandemic in NYC
At-Home Heroes: An Homage to Parenting Through a Pandemic in NYC
Photograph: Andy Lin

3. At-Home Heroes: An Homage to Parenting Through a Pandemic in NYC"

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The Dumbo Improvement District and Photoville thought it wise to celebrate New York parents with a new photo exhibit that will be projected on the Manhattan Bridge beginning this Mother's Day (May 9) all through Father's Day on June 20. The community-sourced series consists of over 150 images submitted by New Yorkers from 40 different neighborhoods across all boroughs. Although all the 65x40 photos will focus on "the caregivers who have been going nonstop for the past year, including mothers, fathers, grandparents and guardians," the project will zero in on images featuring mothers this weekend and fathers in June. Overall, expect depictions of moments of joy and even heartache while the subjects work from home and try their best to maintain a modicum of normalcy in the midst of an out-of-the-ordinary historical moment.

Ghost Forest Maya Lin
Ghost Forest Maya Lin
Photograph: Maya Lin Studio / Courtesy the artist and Madison Square Park Conservancy

4. "Ghost Forest"

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A grove of 49 white cedar trees have been planted in Madison Square Garden and they may give you the willies. Ghost Forest, the installation of spooky trees, is opening May 10 with the hopes of raising awareness about the ill effects of climate change, specifically the dying off of vast tracts of forests, like the New Jersey Pine Barrens where the trees are from. The Pine Barrens in New Jersey is a vulnerable area that has suffered "severe deprivation," according to the Madison Square Park Conservancy. These trees (Atlantic white cedars) were once plentiful on the East Coast but now there are fewer than 50,000 acres of them because of historic forestry practices and threats posed by climate change (like sea-level rise and saltwater infiltration). The trees in this exhibit, which reach as high as 45 feet, were all slated to be cleared as part of regeneration efforts. Visitors to the park will be able to walk through the grove and commune with the ghostly figures.

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Melvin Edwards Better Days
Melvin Edwards Better Days
Photograph: Nicholas Knight / Courtesy Melvin Edwards and the Public Art Funds

5. "Better Days"

Art City Hall Park, Downtown

Brighter Days is a series of six sculptures by Marvin Edwards created from 1970 to 1996 and one in 2020—each one incorporates some form of chain. Sitting in City Hall Park, historical associations are made to slavery and violence. City Park Hall was once the site of the African Burial Ground, a colonial-era cemetery for enslaved and freed individuals of African descent. More recently it became a geographic center of Black Lives Matter protests with the occupation of City Hall. Brighter Days affirms Edwards' optimistic view of our shared future.

 

Oracle
Oracle
Photograph: Daniel Greer

6. "Oracle"

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A new work by conceptual artist Sanford Biggers that is sure to turn lots of heads was just installed at the entrance to the Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center. A mere picture of the massive monument is shocking to us—now imagine seeing it live. Oracle—a 25-foot-tall cast bronze sculpture that weighs 15,280 pounds—is a continuation of Biggers' "Chimera" series. According to an official press release, the latter "consists of hybrid sculptures that merge mythology and history, [...] each one a mashup of masks and figurative sculptures from different countries and cultures, including Greco-Roman and African sculptures." The enormous figure depicts a man boasting the sort of expression that really resonates with us after over a year spent in lockdown: pensive, deep in meditative thought, probably wondering what else Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo are going to throw at us next. Wearing what seems to be a toga and holding onto a torch, we have to admit that Oracle speaks to us. The statue is truly a mood.

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Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts met rooftop commission
Alex Da Corte, As Long as the Sun Lasts met rooftop commission
Photograph: Hyla Skopitz / Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art

7. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden Commission

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This year's Metropolitan Museum of Art Roof Garden Commission features a very familiar friend—Big Bird. That's right, the beloved Sesame Street character with feathers and a beak features prominently in the artwork by Alex Da Corte. Dubbed As Long as the Sun Lasts, the commission stands 26 feet tall and seems to balance Big Bird, who is sitting on the moon holding a ladder, on one side and a modern mobile on the other. The sculpture is kinetic, meaning it moves with the wind. Big Bird is covered in about 7,000 individually placed laser-cut aluminum feathers and perched on a crescent moon with a ladder in hand. According to The Met, it could suggest passage back to Earth or to other galaxies, but he's alone, gazing at the city skyline, which almost feels lonely or melancholic. This feeling is amplified with Da Corte's choice to make Big Bird in blue, rather than in his classic yellow. 

 

Inner Dialogue
Inner Dialogue
Photograph: Courtesy of Cavalier Galleries

8. "Timing," "Inner Dialogue" and "Listen"

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Now through the end of December, everyday New Yorkers walking by Grand Central Station will be treated to three massive sculptures depicting... everyday New Yorkers.  Part of New York City's Department of Transportation's Temporary Art Program—through which artists of all calibers can work on public art pieces that take up residence all around town for up to 11 months—the installation is the brainchild of artist Jim Rennert. At over 6 feet tall each, the life-size works can be found at Pershing Square Plaza West, on Park Avenue between East 41st and East 42nd Streets—and that's not a random location. The giant humans call out to three specific "stages" of an average workday. Timing depicts a man anxiously looking at his watch. "From being at the right place at the right time to having the right opportunity, the importance of timing is essential," reads the press release. While gazing at Inner Dialogue, perhaps our favorite piece of the series, you'll notice a small figure in the palm of the larger one's hand. Clearly a metaphor, it reminds of the subconscious conversations we have with ourselves while running around town each day. Lastly, Listen "invites viewers to pause and reflect amidst the ever-changing and fast-paced world around them." 

 

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Gaudalupe Maravilla playing a gong
Gaudalupe Maravilla playing a gong
Photograph: Sade Armour / Courtesy the Artist, Socrates Sculpture Park, and PPOW Gallery

9. "Planeta Abuelx"

Art Socrates Sculpture Park, Astoria

Socrates Sculpture Park's newest exhibition is a solo show featuring Guadalupe Maravilla’s "Planeta Abuelx," rooted in ancestral and Indigenous practices of holistic healing. As part of the exhibition, Maravilla is offering a series of healing sound baths.

Dream Machine II randall's island
Dream Machine II randall's island
Photograph: Courtesy NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program, Randall’s Island Park Alliance, and Taglialatella Gallery NY

10. "Peace Makers" and "Dream Machine II"

News Art

On the other side of the footbridge that connects Manhattan to Randall's Island are two new incredible sculptures by artist Rubem RobierbThe first is a 10-foot fiberglass and stainless steel sculpture called Peace Makers that has been lauded for its representation and call for unity. Two doves—one black and one white—seem to circle each other and while they are separate, they are part of one artwork, which was inspired by the recent protests against racial injustice. The other piece by Robierb, Dream Machine II, which is a pair of 13-foot, brilliant blue butterfly wings, is a tribute to the human spirit and symbolizes strength and resilience in the face of immense challenges, according to NYC Parks' Art in the Park.

 

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drone
drone
Sam Durant, Untitled (drone), 2016-2021 (rendering). Proposal for the High Line Plinth. Commissioned by High Line Art. Courtesy of the High Line

11. “Untitled (drone)”

News City Life

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.

David Hammons Day’s End
David Hammons Day’s End
Photograph: Timothy Schenck / © David Hammons

12. "Day's End"

News Art

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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DMA mural
DMA mural
Photograph: andaluztheartist/Instagram

13. A mural of the late DMX

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The world has been mourning the loss of rap legend Earl Simmons (stage name: DMX), and as a tribute to his success and in memory of him, Queens-based artist Andaluz (On Da Loose) just painted a mural depicting DMX right by La Estrella Tropical Restaurant in the Bronx, on the corner of Burke and Holland Avenues. The selected location isn't a random one: the restaurant is owned by a member of the Ruff Ryders motorcycle club, which is part of the Ruff Ryders Entertainment. DMX was a founder member of the latter group.
Luciano Garbati Medusa With The Head of Perseus
Luciano Garbati Medusa With The Head of Perseus
Photograph: Courtesy MWTH Project

14. "Medusa With The Head of Perseus"

News Art

A statue of Medusa, the mythological monster with snakes for hair, stands in front of the New York County Criminal Court. Medusa With The Head of Perseus by Argentine-Italian artist Luciano Garbati stands seven feet tall in Collect Pond Park on Centre St. The figure, a nude woman, holds a sword in one hand and the head of Perseus in the other. It was cast in bronze by Vanessa Solomon of Carbon Sculpt Studios in Red Hook and Laran Bronze Foundry in Philadelphia. Medusa With The Head (MWTH) is an artist-led project that explores the narrative habits of classical stories as well as their role in present culture and vision of the future. It says Medusa's story is part of a narrative of victim shaming stories of sexual violence through time and is relevant to this day. By flipping the story on its head, presenting Medusa as victorious over those who would blame and slay her, Garbati asks "How can a triumph be possible if you are defeating a victim?" By exploring the woman behind the myth, she hopes to give her a moment of empowerment. Its placement across from criminal court is also meaningful—high-profile abuse cases, including the Harvey Weinstein trial, have taken place here. By installing the statue here, it becomes "an icon of justice and the power of narrative." MWTH makes sculptural editions and other iconographic representations, like Garbati's statue, available with 10 percent of proceeds donated to the National Women’s Law Center. It'll be up through April 30, 2021.

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Fearless Girl
Fearless Girl
Photograph: Instagram/ajames08

15. "Fearless Girl"

News Art
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."
New Visions for Iris
New Visions for Iris
Photograph: Nicholas Knight, Courtesy of Public Art Fund

16. "New Visions for Iris"

News Art

Photographs are being displayed across 200 bus shelters all over the city. The shots are part of a new public art exhibition by Los Angeles-based, Ethiopian American artist Awol Erizku. Dubbed "New Visions for Iris," the city-wide exhibit will stay put through June 20. Dedicated to the artist's one-year-old daughter and curated by the Public Art Fund, the photos tackle all sorts of subject matter, from race and identity to religion and spirituality. Specifically, the show focuses African symbols and modern takes on the Muslim religion. The exhibit takes place across all five boroughs and throughout over 150 bus shelters in Chicago, but New Yorkers will notice a higher concentration of the images in the Bronx, where Erizku was raised. You can actually browse through all the dedicated locations on this map right here, which also highlights details about each installed photo and the stories behind them. 

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King Nyani
King Nyani
Photograph: Courtesy Gillie and Marc Schattner

17. "King Nyani" at Hudson Yards

Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner created a massive gorilla sculpture for Hudson Yards’ Bella Abzug Park. The work, titled King Nyani (Swahili for gorilla) will be able to impressively fit two to three humans inside its hand. It's part of the artists' ongoing Love The Last series which brings depictions of endangered species to urban areas.

The 4,766-pound sculpture is meant to raise awareness about the critically endangered species, and isn’t actually the first work by the Schattners to attempt such a goal! Previously, the duo installed a massive rhino sculpture in Astor Place titled The Last Three which depicted, you guessed it, the last three northern white rhinoceroses on the planet.

At Hudson Yards' Bella Abzug Park through May 2021.

Doors for Doris, Public Art Fund, Central Park
Doors for Doris, Public Art Fund, Central Park
Photograph: Courtesy Sam Moyer Studio/Sean Kelly/Public Art Fund/Nicholas Knight

18. "Doors for Doris," Public Art Fund, Central Park

Consisting of three oversized doors that stand ajar, the work, titled Doors for Doris, is meant to be passed through by those entering and exiting the park. Each door is made of marble remnants that artist Sam Moyer collected from around the city and inlaid into poured concrete. 

Each door is reminiscent of the rotating doors of NYC's buildings and is framed by a towering Bluestone structure that was cut from a quarry in New York. They range in height from 11 to 15 feet and together span more than 30 feet across the plaza.

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Photograph: Christopher Stach, © 2018 Morgan Art Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, courtesy Kasmin Gallery

19. "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.

Photograph: Timothy Schenck, Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York

20. "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

Photograph: Ali Garber

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