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Cadillac Ranch, Amarillo, Texas
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16 seriously cool art installations across the USA

From Cadillacs buried in sand to trippy fun houses, these awesome art installations have to be seen to be believed

Written by
Shoshi Parks
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America's top museums are the traditional homes of most of the famous works of art in this country, but you’ll have to look behind their four stodgy walls to find the coolest art installations in the USA. In a country that idealizes the cross-country road trip, you'll find bizarre landmarks alongside desolate stretches of highway and amazing sculpture gardens inside Southern swamps. And, believe us, you'll want to see them all. 

From gorgeous outdoor galleries in Montana and graffiti corridors in Detroit to immersive indoor exhibitions in Santa Fe and Houston, these 16 astonishing installations are as creative as they are memorable. While most are on display year-round, a handful like Yayoi Kusama’s newest pop-up in New York will last just a few short months. So don't miss out! 

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Best art installations in the US

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama brings out the best of the natural world in this temporary installation at the New York Botanical Gardens in which horticultural sculptures  think: massive polka-dotted pumpkins, bright tulip blossoms and vibrant sky-high trees bloom among the greenhouses and gardens. A new immersive work, Infinity Mirrored Room Illusion Inside the Heart, uses colored glass and shifting light to realign the visitor’s perspective, while paintings and collages hung indoors show off another side of the artist. 

Open through October 31, 2021. 

Glass denizen Dale Chihuly’s otherworldly garden grows in the shadow of Seattle’s Space Needle. Within, beautiful sculptures are intertwined with a lush, living landscape. The Glasshouse, a 4,500-square-foot conservatory with a 100-foot-long sculpture of vivid red, orange and yellow petals suspended from its ceiling, stands at its center. Eight additional indoor galleries feature more of Chihuly’s work in shapes, colors and patterns that defy expectations and test the boundaries of what glass can do.

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Cadillac Ranch | Amarillo, TX
Photograph: Shutterstock

3. Cadillac Ranch | Amarillo, TX

In 1974, a group of San Francisco hippies calling itself The Ant Farm drove ten classic Cadillacs to a field just outside of Amarillo, Texas along Route 66. There they buried the cars nose first in the dirt, one after another, where they remained for more than 20 years before being relocated and perfectly reburied on nearby Interstate 40. Although Cadillac Ranch is on private land, its visitation is widely encouraged, as is adding to the sedans’ paint jobs. While the Caddies are usually covered in colorful graffiti, they spent a brief stint in 2020 painted solid black and sporting the rallying cry “Black Lives Matter.”

Area 15 is an art installation, immersive playground and alien carnival rolled into one over-the-top Las Vegas experience. A handful of artists and art collectives have shaped the vibe with exhibits like Wink World, a funhouse of light, sound and motion created by Blue Man Group co-founder Chris Wink. Meow Wolf is also in on the game. At the brand new Omega Mart, the artists’ collaborative has molded its unique brand of non-linear storytelling and alternate universe building into grocery store form. Other on-site experiences include mind-shifting virtual reality and augmented reality games, as well as the audiovisual installation Museum Fiasco “Cluster” and the arcade and music venue, the Emporium.

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Laid out across 13 miles of a working ranch in southern Montana, Tippet Rise Art Center doesn’t just feature artists. Huge swaths of the atypical sculpture garden were created by the most crafty elements in the natural world: wind, rain, ice and time. There’s only two ways to see the works, which includes pieces like Patrick Dougherty’s Daydreams, a frontier schoolhouse enclosed in willow nests, and Francis Kéré’s Xylem, a gathering pavilion inspired by the West African Dogon community by hiking or biking the trail.

Open on weekends, June through September. 

With one of the largest collections of outdoor sculptures in the country, the Hudson Valley’s Storm King Art Center isn’t a single art installation but a 500-acre canvas for dozens of them. The landscape is broken into four natural galleries   the North Woods, Museum Hill, the Meadows and the South Fields each with its own permanent collection and the occasional temporary exhibition. Between them, you'll see sculptures and earthworks from modern masters like Andy Goldsworthy, Alexander Calder, Maya Lin and Richard Serra. In the museum building, an immersive installation by Sarah Sze is on display through November 8, 2021.

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What began as a solo beautification project of a down-and-out neighborhood by artist Isaiah Zagar in the late 1960s is now Philly’s most interesting art installation. For five decades, Zagar plastered walls and sidewalks with mosaics made from clay tiles, found objects, junk and international folk art. Tunnels and grottos he excavated in the mid-2000s add to the eclectic vision, which now consists of two indoor galleries and a two-level outdoor sculpture garden. Zagar’s work continues beyond the boundaries of the garden, too. Six blocks of mosaic-laden South Street lead to The Eye’s Gallery, a folk art shop owned by his wife Julia Zagar where more of the artist’s portfolio can be found.

Prada Marfa | Valentine, TX
Photograph: Shutterstock

8. Prada Marfa | Valentine, TX

In the mid-00s, an unusual art installation by Berlin-based artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset popped up on the side of a lonely highway northwest of Marfa, Texas: a storefront built to mirror fashion designer Miuccia Prada’s upscale boutiques. The “pop architectural land art project” was built from adobe so that over time, its slow, natural decay would become part of the work itself. Although real Prada shoes, handbags and clothing initially graced the store’s interior shelves and displays, vandals broke in and stole its wares on opening night. The Prada Marfa has since been restocked with fakes.

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Artist Noah Purifoy picked the blistering Mojave to build his 10-acre Outdoor Desert Museum, a collection of large-scale, immersive sculptures made from blown-out tires, broken keyboards, scrap metal and cracked toilets. Complex and uncompromising, the pieces range from dark and political to silly and unexpected. The outdoor museum is free and, with the exception of a brochure to guide visitors at the gate, there is no staff and no major ongoing maintenance. Purifoy, who called the pieces “environmental sculpture,” saw their slow decay as an integral part of each work.

More than 800,000 LEGO bricks form this temporary exhibition by Sean Kenney at Nashville’s 55-acre, historic Cheekwood Estate and Gardens. Inspired by the Pop Art movement, the installation includes 38 bright and bold sculptures that play on the beauty of nature: massive flightless dragonflies, giant blue bears and creeping red tortoises. Wander the grounds and delight in this colorful take on the traditional sculpture garden.

Open through September 5, 2021.

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More than 40 artists collaborated to create Otherworld, a 32,000-square-foot immersive art installation in Columbus, Ohio. Otherworld walks the line between fantasy and science fiction, inviting visitors to discover the remains of an alternate reality created by a defunct tech company. Within its 47 rooms bloom bioluminescent flora, bizarre creatures and alien landscapes of light and sound.

Facing the one-two punch of Covid-19 and civil unrest in 2020, New York businesses protected their doors and windows with plywood, many pieces of which were quickly painted with murals and messages of the Black Lives Matter movement. So when businesses began to reopen later in the year and the precious plywood had nowhere to go but landfill, the arts nonprofit Worthless Studios launched an initiative to collect and redistribute it to makers for repurposing into new works of art. Five of the pieces created through the Plywood Protection Project are now on display in New York, each in a public park in one of the city’s boroughs. The dispersed installations, which include Michael Zelehoski’s tumbling obelisk Miguelito, and In Honor of Black Lives Matter, a grayscale scene of resistance by KaNSiteCurators and Caroline Mardok, are on display through November 1, 2021.

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Detroit has one of the most impressive collections of street art in the country and the half-mile stretch of Grand River Avenue between Rosa Parks Blvd and Warren Ave features some of the city’s best works. There, more than 100 murals and exhibits by local, national and international artists are spread across 15 buildings and a dozen free standing structures. The installation, which launched as part of a revitalization project in 2012, is modeled after another famed Detroit work: Diego Rivera’s 1930 frescoes, Detroit Industry, which are still on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

A lagoon in New Orleans’ City Park forms the backdrop for the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, a riparian landscape planted in native palmetto, bald cypress, sweetbay magnolia and swamp lily. Among the gardens are 97 large-scale works of art including Arman’s bronze cello tower, Pablo Casal’s Obelisk, Jeppe Hein’s Mirror Labyrinth and the giant hovering Corridor Pin, Blue by husband-and-wife team Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg. While each sculpture is a work all its own, together – along with the pond and garden – they form a singular installation that beautifully combines art and the natural world.

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Go deep inside glittering halls and light-bright galaxies at Houston’s Seismique. The interactive art installation created by a team of 65 artists and craftspeople combines sculptural elements and technology across 40,000-square-feet of space. Inside you’ll find works of art both playful and wondrous, from suspended woven jungle gyms and rotating hallways to rooms full of glowing orbs and holographic lights.

One of the country’s most exciting collaborative installations, Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Returns in Santa Fe, New Mexico is an endlessly fascinating romp through 70 rooms of immersive art. At its core is a story of mystery and intrigue involving the vanished Selig family, clues to which are hidden in enchanted forests, two-dimensional cartoon rooms, futuristic corridors and the true-to-life two story Victorian house in which the Seligs lived. Whether you’re slipping through cosmic portals or taking a break in a psychedelic treehouse, this time-and-space defying adventure will keep you on your toes.

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