We often think of art viewing as an indoor experience, moving through museums and galleries to experience painting and sculpture. But some of the best art can be seen blended with nature. Sculpture gardens, or sculpture parks, have a long history. For centuries collectors and artists have brought together monumental sculpture and placed it against nature, with institutions finding the allure of art and environment an attractive calling card for visitors.
In the late 1500s, for example, Henry VIII adorned his gardens at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, England, with sculptures inspired by Greek mythology. In Renaissance Italy, nobles like the Medicis bedecked their gardens with classical pieces excavated from ruins. And at the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV lavishly decorated the sprawling grounds of Versailles with over 200 sculptures made of marble, bronze and lead. Later, when site-specific outdoor sculptures were first commissioned in the 1800s, the earliest iterations of what we now consider sculpture parks began to emerge.
Across the world, the best sculpture parks encourage viewers to fan out, mill the grounds and stumble upon incredible works of art. Below, we share 11 extraordinary sculpture parks you can visit across three continents.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Built on a former industrial site, Olympic Sculpture Park sits alongside Elliott Bay’s eastern shoreline and is run by the Seattle Art Museum and houses both a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, with works by Alexander Calder, Tony Smith and Richard Serra, to name a few.
Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park
Spanning 158 acres of land with both indoor and outdoor spaces, this park mounts three temporary exhibitions per year in addition to its permanent collection with pieces by famed sculptors including Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois and Barbara Hepworth situated within lush meadows, trees, ponds and waterfalls.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
After a year-long expansion and renovation initiative, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopened in summer 2017, renewing access to iconic, longstanding pieces like Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry and Martin Puryear’s Gog & Magog (Ampersand).
Storm King Art Center
Daytripping distance from New York City, Storm King boasts tranquil hills and open fields sprinkled with monumental sculptures by Mark di Suvero, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi and Nam June Paik, among others.
Hakone Open-Air Museum
Just under 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japan’s first outdoor art museum (founded in 1969) is spread across a modest 17-acre plot that serves as the permanent home to some 120 sculptures, both outdoors and inside a gallery.
Yorkshire Sculpture Park
Yorkshire Sculpture Park opened in 1977 as the first permanent park of its kind in the U.K. It now hosts some 80 sculptures and installations on its 500-acre country garden estate, complete with fields, dirt paths, scattered trees, and wooded areas.
The wide-ranging collection at Oslo’s Ekebergparken (or Ekeberg Park) includes artists from Auguste Rodin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Salvador Dalí and Oslo-born sculptor Per Ung, all of whom are represented through figurative bronzes.
Kröller-Müller Museum and Sculpture Garden
With nearly 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings by Vincent van Gogh, the Kröller-Müller Museum houses the world’s second-largest collection of the Dutch artist’s work (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). Outside the museum is a 60-plus-acre sculpture garden that gives way to some 160 pieces by the likes of Lucio Fontana, Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Huyghe and Aristide Maillol.
Changchun World Sculpture Park
The pièce de resistance of the sprawling Changchun World Sculpture Park is a 97-foot-tall concrete sculpture entitled Friendship, Peace and Spring, which is a joint work of five Chinese sculptors. Divided into five sections, each representing a different continent, the park contains some 450 sculptures by artists from over 200 countries and territories, with Mayan, Maori and Eskimo art all represented.
A short trek from Barcelona’s city center, Park Güell is a whimsical wonderland, designed at the turn of the 20th century by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Though it’s not your typical sculpture park, it’s a mesmerizing embodiment of Gaudí’s deft ability to enmesh art, design and architecture.
Lough Boora Sculpture Park
Settled by mesolithic peoples nearly 10,000 years ago, the Lough Boora bogland has a rich history and impressive biodiversity. The 24 works here are made from natural and industrial materials from the bog area, including wood, stone, and railway tracks, which have, in turn, been transformed by their environment through weathering or plant growth.
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