Sculpture gardens offer the best of two lovely worlds: wonderful art and wondrous nature. Here are five in New York worth exploring and enjoying. By Jessica Allen.
Socrates Sculpture Park
In 1986, a group of concerned citizens and artists, led by artist Mark di Suvero, transformed an illegal dump site and abandoned landfill into a magnificent art-filled public space. Today Socrates Sculpture Park functions as an outdoor studio for artists working large (sometimes very large), as well as a top-notch museum. The views across the East River are super, the art is thought-provoking and often fun, but the best part about the park is its utter integration in the community: it’s open 365 days a year, doesn’t charge an entrance fee, and boasts a huge variety of free programs, from a greenmarket to tai chi to music to movies to kite flying.
Central Park has more than 50 sculptures, fountains, and statues, memorializing everyone from William Shakespeare to the crew of the USS Maine to Balto, a Siberian husky who helped carry medicine to curb a diphtheria epidemic in 1920s Alaska. While “Eagles & Prey,” the oldest known statue in any NYC park, is captivating, we’re particularly partial to the hulking depiction of King Jagiello, the grand duke of Lithuania. It’s as fierce today as when the king led his country into battle in 1410. You can almost hear the clang of metal on metal.
Once again, this summer FIGMENT, a grassroots organization that puts together participatory art projects, will create an interactive sculpture garden on what was once the parade grounds of Governors Island. In addition to a treehouse, the City of Dreams Pavilion, and several large works, this installation will include a free minigolf course. This year the theme is “State of the Art,” so the artist-designed holes will allow visitors “to putt newer! faster! better!, and feel the spirit of visionaries past into the present with innovative ideas and breathless concepts of ‘the future.’”
Hudson River Park
The roughly two mile-stretch of Hudson River Park between Grand Street in Tribeca and West 29th in Chelsea offers several fascinating, permanent works of art. “Twister,” one of three cantilevered “Serpentine Structures” (2008) torqued and welded by Marc Gibian, looks less like the waves it purports to represent and more like a very shiny jungle gym (pictured). Then there’s the moving AIDS Memorial, a 2-foot-high, 42-foot-long granite bench that overlooks half-submerged pilings of a long-gone pier, remnants of activity and industry, a stark metaphor for the dead.
The landscaped strips (known as “malls”) separating uptown traffic from downtown traffic along Park Avenue play host to art on a rotating basis, and we’re not just talking about blooming tulips, budding trees, and lush, lush grasses. On view through June 9 are huge sculptures by Alexandre Arrechea called “No Limits.” These colorful, tall pieces re-imagine some of the city’s most iconic buildings. Arrechea’s work is the 21st installation to appear on the Park Avenue Malls. The Fund for the Park Avenue Sculpture committee generally sponsors two installations a year.