Fighting the traditionalist notion that famous artwork can only be seen within museums and galleries, public art begs to differ. While there’s no doubt that these institutions house and preserve world’s most precious paintings, sculptures and other art pieces, the works that can be seen in broad daylight and by anyone who even only glazes at it hold an immense significance as well. By definition, public or outdoor art is one ”in any media that has been planned and executed with the intention of being staged in the physical public domain, usually outside and accessible to all.” As such, it is usually favourite among the regular folk, but also curators, artists and those who commission it more than often, wanting to enrich the urban and natural landscape with care and creative vision.
Created in relation with a certain place, its people and its history, public art engages in a unique dialogue with its audience, eliciting all kinds of emotions and reactions – from shock to melancholy, rage, sadness, curiosity, excitement. As a result of contemporary practice by many individuals, these outdoor sculptures and installations became a part of their community, a sort of a monument left in the hands of time. Today, we have famous artwork installed all around the globe that helped shape the identity of our society in innovative and meaningful ways. However big or small, we cannot imagine certain places without these art pieces anymore.
Scroll down for our selection of ten public art pieces outside the realms of a museum or gallery.
Editors’ Tip: Outdoor Art: Extraordinary Sculpture Parks and Art in Nature
Take a look at some of today’s most innovative art spaces around the world – sculpture parks and artwork situated in nature. From Edward James’s surreal sculpture garden Las Pozas in Mexico to Anselm Kiefer’s sprawling studio complex in the French countryside, artists and art collectors are creating outdoor spaces in order to display sculpture and art that is both transformative and powerful. This book is filled with breathtaking photographs of 25 of these spaces from throughout the world–many of which are not open to the public. As large-scale works grow in popularity, these collections–built and designed by entrepreneurs, landscape architects, environmentalists, artists, and garden experts–demonstrate the endless possibilities of displaying art in nature’s realm.
Louise Bourgeois - Maman
I can’t think of another way to start this list than with Maman, arguably the most famous artwork ever made by Louise Bourgeois. Made of bronze, stainless steel and marble, this sculpture is scary as it is inspiring, in all its eerie glory. It depicts a spider, which for the artist represents her mother, who was a weaver and very clever, like spiders. The first Maman was created in 1999, measuring over 30 ft in height and over 33 ft in width (927 x 891 cm) and containing a net sack with 26 marble eggs. Some of its permanent locations include Tate Modern, the National Gallery of Canada and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Most recently, its bronze versions were installed outside the Moderna Museet in Stockholm and Garage Museum in Moscow.
Featured image: Louise Bourgeois’ Maman outside Guggenheim Bilbao. Image via panoramio.com
Anish Kapoor - Cloud Gate
Located at Millennium Park in Chicago, USA, Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor is also known as The Beam, due to its shape. Constructed between 2004 and 2006, it quickly became one of the city’s landmarks and a prominent feature in many selfies taken there. It’s made of 168 stainless steel plates welded together into a highly polished work of art that spreads on 33 by 66 feet surface (10 by 20 m), 42 ft (13m) in height, and weighs 98 tons. The work represents one of the finest examples of Anish Kapoor’s practice and approach, as it reflects its surroundings and the visitors before it, luring them into a deeper, spiritual investigation of oneself – especially in the concave chamber located at its bottom, that warps and multiplies reflections.
Featured image: Anish Kapoor Cloud Gate in Chicago. Image via damnuglyphotography.wordpress
Robert Indiana - LOVE
New York City is already exciting on its own, and contributing to that are numerous outdoor sculptures one can find around. One such famous artwork is Robert Indiana’s LOVE, an iconic piece of Pop art that became recognizable pretty much everywhere. In 1969, the artist said that the sculpture is based on the idea that ”the word is an appropriated and usable element of art”. The image was used as MoMA’s Christmas card, it ended up being on postage stamps, and continues to be reproduced in a variety of formats and media. Versions of LOVE now exist in Hebrew, Chinese, Italian and Spanish as well, and in NYC you can find it on the 6th avenue, fairly close to another Robert Indiana trademark work – HOPE.
Featured image: Robert Indiana LOVE in New York City. Image via Wikimedia
Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen - Spoonbridge and Cherry
The oversized, hyperrealistic renditions of ordinary objects made by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje Van Bruggen can be found around the world, but perhaps his most famous artwork is on view at the Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Entitled Spoonbridge and Cherry, the piece was created between 1985 and 1988 using aluminium, stainless steel and paint. It is a curved spoon with a bright red cherry on top, placed above the Garden’s artificially-shaped pond. The spoon had already appeared in Claes Oldenburg’s numerous drawings that preceded the sculpture, while Coosje Van Bruggen contributed with the cherry, as a playful reference to the Garden’s formal geometry.
Featured image: Claes Oldenburg and Coosje Van Bruggen – Spoonbridge and Cherry at Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Image via leisuregrouptravel.com
Maurizio Cattelan - L.O.V.E.
Ok, maybe it is not as famous as the previous four artworks, but it is definitely something to see in Milan. In 2010, the bad boy of the local contemporary art scene, Maurizio Cattelan, installed an 11-meter high marble hand outside the Milan Stock Exchange building, just in time for another debate about the country’s crumbling economy. Officially entitled L.O.V.E., although notoriously known as “the finger”, the work depicts a hand to which all the fingers have been cut off except for the middle one. Initially, it was supposed to be on view for ten days only, as part of a retrospective hosted by the city’s Palazzo Reale, but as we speak, it is still standing proud and tall in front of the Bourse, in spite of a handful of politicians that opposed it and questioned the morale of such artwork being on public display.
Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan – L.O.V.E in Milan. Image via traileoni.it
David Cerny - Piss
”I just enjoy pissing people off. With this statement, Czech artist David Černý pretty much described his art to the core. A man who has painted a Soviet tank pink, promoted killing at an art fair and invited the public to watch a video inside a sculpture’s behind, also created Piss, outside the Franz Kafka museum in Prague. The capital city is filled with David Černý creations, but this one takes the cake, as it depicts two men pissing on the base they’re standing on, which resembles the geographic form of Czech Republic. But that’s not all: the stream of the water writes quotes from legendary Prague residents, and if the viewer sends a text to a number shown next to the sculpture, the figures will “write” the message.
Featured image: David Cerny – Piss. Image via pragueart.info
Keith Haring - Crack is Wack
Possibly the most famous artwork by Keith Haring in NYC, Crack is Wack has quite an interesting story behind it. It was dedicated to the artist’s young studio assistant Benny, whose fight against crack addiction inspired the artist to paint the mural alongside the Harlem River Drive, next to an abandoned basketball court in 1986. As it was created illegal, the mural was short-lived, as it was vandalised and removed by the authorities, while Keith Haring was fined and eventually even arrested. However, the mural made news, just in time for Reagan’s “War on Drugs”, and the artist was then asked to re-paint the mural at the same location. In 2007, the mural underwent a slight renovation, although it remained almost completely untouched since its creation.
Featured images: Keith Haring painting the original Crack is Wack mural, image via animalnewyork.com; The second version of the mural, image via sartle.com.
Niki de Saint Phalle - The Tarot Garden
Imagine an entire garden of colourful, lush sculptures inspired by tarot cards, Antoni Gaudì’s Parc Güell and feminism. Welcome to Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, or The Tarot Garden, a haven of famous artwork by Niki de Saint Phalle. Created over the course of twenty years, the park was finally opened in 1998, four years prior to the artist’s death in 2002. One can find it in Italy’s beautiful Tuscany region, in the province of Grosseto, containing twenty-two monumental figures representing the greater Mysteries of the tarot, constructed of reinforced concrete and covered with mirrors and ceramic mosaic. What’s also interesting is that during the construction, Niki de Saint Phalle actually lived within one of the sculptures – the sphinx-like Empress.
Featured image: Niki de Saint Phalle – The Tarot Garden. Image via Guggenheim Bilbao
Jeff Koons - Puppy
Jeff Koons created Puppy in 1992, as a commission by three art dealers for the Arolsen Castle in Germany. It is a 43ft (13m) tall West Highland White Terrier puppy, whose stainless steel substructure is covered in a variety of flowers, such as Begonias, Petunias and Marigolds. Standing guard to Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain since 1997, when it was purchased by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, this famous artwork is also linked to a dark story of Basque police officer Jose María Aguirre, who was shot in front of it by the members of a separatist organization who were trying to plant explosive-filled flowerpots near the sculpture. The square in which Jeff Koons’ Puppy is placed today is named after Aguirre.
Featured image: Jeff Koons – Puppy at Guggenheim Bilbao. Image via siteandsight.com
Yayoi Kusama - Les Tulipes de Shangri-La
In 2004, the French city of Lille was the European Capital of Culture, and for the occasion, they commissioned celebrated Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama to do a site-specific sculpture got the François-Mitterrand square, in front of the Lille railway station. It was her first permanent work on the continent, and it features the Shangri-La tulips some 8 meters high, created in her traditional psychedelic, dot-involving style as part of her Flower Power exhibition. The work depicts tulips as the symbols of North-Western Europe and references Shangri-la, an autonomous Tibetan prefecture in the Chinese Yunnan Province. The sculpture was vandalised on numerous occasions and in 2011 it underwent renovation.