Discover hidden New York attractions with our guide to little-known, easily missed or unexpectedly placed public art. Seek out 18 tree-and-stone pairings during your next crawl of Cheslea galleries and find a sound installation in the middle of Times Square.
RECOMMENDED: Public art in New York guide
John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres, Homage to the People of the Bronx: Double Dutch at Kelly Street I
This lively scene of children at play, one of a series of South Bronx murals on building facades by the artists, who wanted to make permanent installations with local inhabitants. While the figures appear suspended, almost weightless, their form and subject matter are deeply rooted in the surrounding environment. Made from life casts of neighborhood children, the fiberglass sculptures were inspired by girls dancing at a nearby block party. Intervale Ave at Kelly St, Bronx (718-931-5400, bronxarts.org)
Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks
A gallery tour of Chelsea customarily requires staring at white walls inside buildings, so it’s understandable if you’ve missed these 18 tree-and-stone pairings outside on West 22nd Street. They are a spin-off of a five-year international effort, begun in 1982 at Germany’s Documenta 7 exhibition, to enact social and environmental change by planting 7,000 trees. 548 W 22nd St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves (212-989-5566, diaart.org)
Dan Flavin, Untitled
Climb the stairwell at 548 West 22nd Street during the day, and you’re apt to overlook the green and blue neon lights softly illuminating this modest space. Come back at night to witness a more vibrant glow. But as with many of Flavin’s site-specific pieces, the viewer’s assessment may waver between functional and fantastic. 548 W 22nd St between Tenth and Eleventh Aves (212-989-5566, diaart.org)
Keith Haring, The Life of Christ
Step inside the majestic Cathedral of St. John the Divine to experience the awe and splendor of Renaissance paintings, Italian tapestries, glittering stained-glass windows—and this bronze and white-gold triptych altarpiece, a biblical narrative in bold lines and energetic figures. On display in the modestly decorated St. Columba Chapel, the work—an affirmation of the sacred and a recognition of mortality—was Haring’s final creation before his AIDS-related death in 1990. 1047 Amsterdam Ave at 112th St (212-316-7490, stjohndivine.org)
Roy Lichtenstein, Mural with Blue Brushstroke
Hidden from the street, this vibrant graphic mural hangs in the atrium of AXA Equitable Center’s glass-and-stone skyscraper. The arrestingly large, nearly 70-foot-high piece revives concepts and images from Lichtenstein’s earlier works and alludes to several prominent art-history figures, including Stella, Matisse and Braque. 787 Seventh Ave between 51st and 52nd Sts (212-255-4570, lichtensteinfoundation.org)
Nobuho Nagasawa, TIMECAST
In 2012, Nagasawa’s six etchings of tree silhouettes came to Red Hook’s Columbia Street. The artist traced shadows of nearby trees at specific times throughout the day in the sidewalk. These echoes of nature commemorate a series of moments, while serving as a reminder of their inevitable passage. Locations vary; visit brooklyngreenway.org for details.
Tom Otterness sculptures
You’re likely familiar with Otterness’s playful bronze figurines, Life Underground, at the 14th St–Eighth Ave subway station, but his thematic explorations of fairy tales, political satire and myth can also be found in less-trafficked terrain. Roberto Clemente State Park (301 W Tremont Ave at MacCracken Ave, Bronx; 718-299-8750, nysparks.com) is host to Double Foot, while The Marriage of Real Estate and Money enlivens the waterfront at Roosevelt Island. Visit tomotterness.net to discover more public works in NYC.
Max Neuhaus, Times Square
Steal a moment of relative quiet amid the clamor of this bustling intersection, and you’ll get to experience sound in the name of art. Rising from a metal subway grate on Broadway, this piece often competes with—but also depends upon—its environment. The surrounding architecture and a series of underground spaces amplify a sound installation that evokes ringing church bells. Pedestrian island, Broadway between 45th and 46th Sts (212-989-5566, diaart.org)
Nam June Paik, Chase Information Wall
The 429 television sets stacked in rows within MetroTech Center’s Chase bank lobby could be mistaken for a large-scale surveillance project. But in fact it’s a work of art, and one worth checking out on your way to a Public Art Fund exhibit at the nearby MetroTech Commons. Images, narratives and bright colors flash across the screens in rapid sequence, communicating a growing anxiety about technology’s control of our lives. Further enhancing this space with radiant light and color: Dan Flavin’s untitled (to Tracy Harris). 4 Metrotech Center, Flatbush Ave Extension between Myrtle Ave and Willoughby St, Downtown Brooklyn
Françoise Schein, Subway Map Floating on a New York Sidewalk
The subway map design has become a recognizable motif on all manner of kitschy merchandise. This 87-foot-long schematic composite of routes, made from stainless steel rods and embedded in a Soho sidewalk, feels a little more authentic. Schein—an architect, urban planner and visual artist—has said that her multifaceted pursuits stem from an interest in cities: their foundations, unique designs and the ideas they generate. 110 Greene St between Prince and Spring Sts