Places where art can be enjoyed en plein air
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2017 and has been updated with the most recent information.
Fall has arrived and we’re itching to enjoy some cooler weather, get outside, and see the changing foliage.
And while we’ll always adore architecturally stunning museums like New York’s iconic Guggenheim, now’s the time to enjoy the crisp air before the long days of winter force us inside.
Luckily, an array of open-air museums from coast to coast means we don’t have to choose between the outdoors and a bit of culture. Sculpture parks offer the best of both worlds, to say nothing of the gorgeous art.
Some sculpture parks are linked up with world-class art centers; others are smaller but feature no less impressive or unique collections. All of the parks on our list are breaths of fresh air.
Like theaters or libraries, sculpture parks invite visitors to think outside the box and explore a different world, if only for an afternoon. In celebration of their beauty, we’ve rounded up 14 stellar sculpture parks and outdoor museums that have both outstanding art and picturesque settings.
Storm King Art Center in New York
Located one hour north of New York City in the lower Hudson Valley, the Storm King Art Center boasts 500 acres of fields, hills, and woodlands. This pristine setting hosts a permanent collection of 100 sculptures, with highlights including works by David Smith, Isamu Noguchi, Roy Lichtenstein, and many more.
The vast permanent collection is complemented by an array of special exhibitions held in both the outdoor galleries and inside in the Museum Building.
The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in New Orleans
New Orleans’s picturesque City Park boasts a wealth of family-friendly activities, but one of our favorites is the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Founded in 2003 and set over five acres adjacent to the museum, the sculpture garden features 64 sculptures and makes for a pleasant walk (among a forest of pines, magnolias, oak trees, and reflecting pools). Don’t miss Robert Indiana’s “Love (Red Blue)” and Renoir’s “Venus Victorius.”
The Neon Museum in Las Vegas might be a bit different than most of the other museums or sculpture parks on this list, but its uniqueness makes it worthy of inclusion.
Founded in 1996, the outdoor museum is dedicated to collecting, preserving, and exhibiting the iconic signs of Las Vegas. It’s a must-do when in Sin City, but plan ahead; the sign “boneyard” is only available to the public through an hour-long guided tour.
The Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis
As one of the first and largest sculpture parks in the United States—it was founded in 1976—the Laumeier Sculpture Park presents 60 works of large-scale outdoor art on a 105-acre park. It’s also free and open daily, so there’s no reason not to visit.
Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle
Open since 2007 and free to the public, the Olympic Sculpture Park is operated by the Seattle Art Museum.
Designed by lead architects Weiss/Manfredi, the Z-shaped park comprises nine waterfront acres—formerly an industrial site—that display both permanent and temporary installations. In addition to providing a stunning backdrop for art, the Olympic Sculpture Park connects downtown to the water and provides picturesque views.
The Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden in Louisiana
Like the Neon Museum in Las Vegas, the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden in Chauvin, Louisiana, is not your typical museum. A bricklayer by trade, the reclusive Kenny Hill created more than 100 primarily religious concrete sculptures on his bayou property. Hill abandoned his art in early 2000, but a stroll through this unique sculpture garden offers insight into one man’s life.
The Sculpture Garden of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Located on Washington, D.C.’s National Mall, the National Gallery Sculpture Garden features works from the Gallery’s permanent collection and loans for special exhibitions.
The garden itself is lovely—full of flowering trees, ground covers, and perennials—and the art is second to none. Check out Marc Chagall’s “Orphée,” Joan Miró’s “Personnage Gothique,” and Sol LeWitt’s “Four-Sided Pyramid,” pictured above.
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Massachusetts
It’s hard to choose a favorite work of art at this sprawling, 30-acre sculpture park about one hour from Boston. Approximately 60 sculptures—like Jim Dine’s “Two Big Black Hearts” or “Campfire Girls” (pictured above) by David Strohmeyer—are carefully situated amongst landscaped lawns, forests, fields, and gardens.
Whether you’re admiring site-specific projects or the park’s permanent collection, deCordova is not to miss for art lovers.
The Fran and Ray Stark Sculpture Garden in Los Angeles
It might be hard to tear yourself away from the stunning art inside the Getty Center, but make some time for the modern and contemporary sculptures in the museum’s sculpture garden and terraces.
Donated by the late film producer Ray Stark and his wife, Fran, the garden contains 28 pieces integrated into the landscape and architecture. We’re partial to Elisabeth Frink’s “Horse” and Joan Miró’s “Figure.”
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis
The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopened in June 2017 after a renovation, and its iconic sculptures make it worthy of this list.
The 11-acre site is one of the prettiest places in the city, and visitors can check out more than 40 works of art from the Walker Art Center’s collection. At the top of the list: the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry,” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.
The Sculpture Collection at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina
Brookgreen Gardens in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, offers visitors a lush setting and even a zoo, but it also has one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of American figurative sculpture in the country.
You can check out over 1,400 works by 350 different artists, and the sculpture storage facility is also on display.
di Rosa Art Museum in Napa Valley
It’s hard to get much prettier than the rolling hills of vineyards, but the di Rosa museum in Napa Valley ups the ante with a vast collection of art. With a focus on Bay Area artists, di Rosa lets visitors wander on a 1/3-mile trail past dozens of outdoor sculptures.
The Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park in Chicago
Located on the campus of Governors State University, the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park features 29 sculptures on 100 acres. The collection has everything from landscape-based sculptures—like the one pictured above—to pieces by internationally renowned artists like Mexican sculptor Yvonne Domenge.
Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park in Kansas City
This 22-acre sculpture park in the heart of Midtown Kansas City boasts 36 sculptures at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The park is open from dawn until dusk, 365 days a year and includes four iconic Shuttlecocks, recent additions by Roxy Paine and Robert Morris, and a picturesque setting.
Know of another outstanding sculpture park that we missed? Tell us in the comments.