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10 great outdoor sculptures in NYC you can visit on a socially-distanced stroll

Written by
Howard Halle

There are only so many distractions you can find at home before feeling cooped up (though we still heartily recommend virtually touring NYC’s many museums, or taking in a digital drag show, or listening while you cook to playlists put together by some of NYC’s top restaurants), which means it’s time to get out of the house.

Luckily, that’s something you can still do as long as you’re careful to stay at least six feet away from other people. You can go running, of course, or to the park, but here’s our suggestion for something different: A socially distanced stroll to one of the city’s many outdoor statues and monuments. These sculptures—generally overlooked in the city’s normal hustle and bustle—are all over town, and all over NYC’s green spaces. But since both are pretty much empty right now, you can safely plot your perambulations to check out one or more of them.

We’ve rounded up a list of the 10 coolest ones to visit, so give them a try. 

Rockefeller Center, Prometheus, sculpture, skating rink

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Prometheus, Rockefeller Center

Paul Manship's gilded bronze sculpture above Rockefeller Center’s skating rink depicts Prometheus, the Greek mythological figure who gifted mankind with fire. (And who was chained to a rock for his trouble by Zeus, who sentenced Prometheus to having an eagle peck out his liver in perpetuity.) Strangely, the sculpture has attracted conspiracy nuts who, believing that the Rockefellers headed a secret cabal controlling the world, have claimed that Rock Center is a temple dedicated to Lucifer with Prometheus at its center.

George Segal, sculpture, gay rights, West Village

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George Segal, Gay Liberation, Christopher Street, West Village

This ensemble of ghostly white figures in Christopher Square is sculpted in the artist’s signature plaster-cast style, and depicts two same-sex couples—one male, the other, female—engrossed in intimate conversations. Situated near the Stonewall Inn, birthplace of the gay rights movement, the sculpture was originally commissioned in 1979, but wasn’t dedicated until 1992 because it was deemed offensive in certain conservative quarters.

Joan Miro, surrealist, sculpture

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Joan Miró, Oiseau lunaire (Moonbird), Solow Building, W 58th St between Fifth and Sixth Ave

This monumental bronze by Catalan Surrealist Joan Miró dates from 1966 and is one of several enlarged copies of an original version created in the late 1940s, when the artist shifted away from exploring nature to depicting dreams. Though Moonbird looks more like a triceratops than a feathered friend, it reflects the symbolic significance that birds had for Miró, who viewed them as metaphorical messengers from the cosmos.

Unisphere, Corona Park, Queens, World's Fair

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The Unisphere, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens

One of two surviving structures from the New York World’s Fair of 1964–1965 (the other is the New York State Pavilion), The Unisphere embodied the fair’s celebration of Space Age optimism. If you can't make it out to Queens, you'll find a smaller, stainless steel replica of the sculpture that was commissioned by Donald Trump for his Trump International Hotel & Tower near Columbus Square.

United Nations, sculpture, St. George

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Good Defeats Evil, U.N. Building

Based on the legend of St. George slaying the Dragon, this sculpture was given to the United Nations by the former Soviet Union in 1990 to mark the U.N.’s 45th anniversary. Created by Zurab Tsereteli, the monument allegorizes nuclear disarmament, incorporating parts from dismantled Soviet and American missiles.

Alice In Wonderland, Central Park, sculpture

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Alice in Wonderland Statue, Central Park

Beloved by generations of city kids since 1959, this sculptural tableau features Alice surrounding by the White Rabbit, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat and The Mad Hatter—the latter supposedly modeled on George Delacorte, the philanthropist who donated the sculpture to the park in honor of his wife.

Cleopatra, Egypt, Central Park, obelisk

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Cleopatra's Needle, Central Park

Dating back 3,000 years, Cleopatra's Needle is the oldest man-made object in Central Park. Though named for the Egyptian Queen, the 69-foot high, 200-ton red granite obelisk was originally erected around 1450 BCE to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Pharaoh Thutmose III’s reign. Some 1,500 years later it was moved to Cleopatra's capital, Alexandria. Centuries after that, it arrived at its current location in 1881 as a gift from the Ottoman Viceroy of Egypt.

New York, Garment District, Fashion Center

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Needle Threading a Button, Garment district

Topping the Fashion Center information kiosk at Seventh Avenue and 39th Street, this eye-popping Pop Art sculpture has been described as a roadside attraction in the middle of New York. Though it looks like the handiwork of sculptor Claes Oldenburg, who is famed for transforming everyday items into gargantuan objects, it was actually created during the 1990s by the design firm Pentagram.

World Trade Center, 9-11, sculpture, Liberty Park

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The Sphere, Liberty Park

German artist Fritz Koenig was commissioned to construct The Sphere as the centerpiece for the public plaza in front of the originally World Trade buildings when it opened in 1971. On 9/11, it miraculously survived the twin towers collapsing on top of it, and was was found poking out of the rubble, damaged but not destroyed. Removed from its original site, The Sphere was relocated to Battery Park in 2002; in 2017, it was moved once again to the newly opened Liberty Park, which is now The Sphere's permanent home.

Wall Street, Bowling Green, Stock Market, sculpture

Photograph: Shutterstock

Charging Bull, Bowling Green

This iconic symbol of NYC's financial industry, has had something of a controversial life, starting with the day it was illegally installed in 1989. Its creator, Sicilian artist Arturo Di Modica, decided to drop 7,100-pound bronze off the back of his truck in front of the New York Stock Exchange without permission. The Bull was removed by the NYPD and relocated to Bowling Green, where it became a major tourist attraction. It also became a lightning rod for anti-capitalism sentiment, serving, for example, as a rallying point for Occupy Wall Street in 2011. It was also vandalized twice in 2019—once by being struck with a banjo, and again by being splattered with fake blood.

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