New York’s 11 Most Beautiful Public Art Shows for Spring

From Queens to Brooklyn Bridge Park, the city's green spaces are sprouting art.

Installation view of Iván Navarro’s This Land Is Your Land in Madison Square Park (2014). Photo by James Ewing Photography, New York. Courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy.

In spite of countless false starts and snowy regressions, it is technically spring in New York now (really!), and it is therefore open season for public art. The city’s parks are quickly filling with public art as outdoor exhibitions open in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens. From a reclining giant in Queens and a deconstructed duplicate of the Statue of Liberty strewn between Brooklyn and Manhattan, to sculptures commemorating outmoded technologies on the High Line and in Madison Square Park, there’s something for everyone in every area of the city this spring.


Paweł Althamer, Queen Mother of Reality (2013).
Photo: Tom Powel, New York. Courtesy of the artist, Foksal Gallery Foundation, Warsaw, neugerreimschneider, Berlin, and Performa 13, New York.

Pawel Althamer at Socrates Sculpture Park, Astoria, Queens (May 11-August 3)

Queen Mother of Reality, a monumental Performa 13 commission that ran afoul of the New York State Parks department last year, this 50-foot-long found object sculpture by the Polish artist—who is currently the subject of a survey at the New Museum—will once again lounge on the banks of the East River. The work pays tribute to Queen Mother Dr. Delois Blakely, who in 1995 was sworn in as Harlem’s community mayor by then-mayor of New York City Rudolph Giuliani. For Althamer, Queen Mother of Reality serves as a monument to and reminder of the city’s homeless and displaced populations.

Isabelle Cornaro, <em>The God Box (column)</em>. Courtesy of Timothy Schenck.

Isabelle Cornaro, The God Box (column). Courtesy of Timothy Schenck.

“Archeo” on the High Line, Chelsea, Manhattan (April 2014–March 2015)

For its latest thematic group show, High Line Art has tapped seven artists to create works engaging with antiquated technologies and the idea of obsolescence—a fitting theme given that the High Line is itself an obsolete piece of antiquated technology, albeit one that has found a delightful new function as a public park. Works by the likes of Marianne Vitale, Gavin Kenyon, and Josh Kline will reflect on and poke fun at our simultaneous obsession and frustration with technology.


Alice Aycock, Hoop-­‐La (Park Avenue Paper Chase) (2014). The sculpture is currently installed at 53rd street on Park Avenue.
Photo: Dave Rittinger. Courtesy Galerie Thomas Schulte and Fine Art Partners, Berlin, Germany.

Alice Aycock on Park Avenue, Midtown, Manhattan (through July 20)

Of all the artists to have graced the grassy medians along Park Avenue over the years, none seems quite so well-suited to the traffic-clogged, capital-filled canyon of modernist steel-and-glass towers as Alice Aycock. Her swirling, tumbling, fanning, and craning structures made from painted aluminum function all-too-perfectly as sculptural representations of urban chaos.


Carol Bove, Celeste (2013).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Carol Bove on the High Line, Hudson Yards, Manhattan (through April 20)

Nestled among the overgrown weeds and rusty rails of the High Line’s un-touched northernmost section, Carol Bove’s sculptures alternate between jarring contrast and perfect integration. Those made of steel I-beams blend seamlessly into the rugged post-industrial landscape, while her pristine white coils and swirls seem to foreshadow their surroundings’ imminent renovation and revamping.


Olaf Breuning, Clouds (2013).
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures. Photo: Liz Ligon. Courtesy Public Art Fund, New York.

Olaf Breuning in Central Park, Midtown, Manhattan (through August 24)

For folks who frequent Central Park’s southeast corner, every day this spring is going to be partly cloudy. The Swiss-born, New York-based artist’s playful installation Clouds features a cluster of six of those weather phenomena hovering in place some 35 feet above the entrance to Central Park. Like a child’s drawing of clouds made real, Breuning’s intervention manages to be at once endearing and absurd.


Rendering of Rachel Feinstein’s Folly (2014) in Madison Square Park.
Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York.

Rachel Feinstein in Madison Square Park, Flatiron, Manhattan (May 1–September 7)

For her massive trio of sculptural interventions, Rachel Feinstein took inspiration from the Roccoco genre of decorative architectural details known as follies, creating a series of whimsical aluminum works whose surfaces will be printed with illustration-like details. The three large-scale works, ranging in height from 8 to 26 feet, will include an ornate cavern, a house precariously balanced on a cliff, and a flying sailboat.


Katharina Grosse, Just Two of Us (2013).
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Katharina Grosse in MetroTech Commons, Downtown Brooklyn (through September 14)

The German artist has radically jazzed up one of Downtown Brooklyn’s most drab plazas with Just Two of Us, an unwieldy installation of abstract objects whose enormous forms evoke collapsed temples and rock quarries. Katharina Grosse has coated them in her trademark range of riotous hues and graffiti-like dribbles, creating an explosively colorful alien landscape nestled amid trees and generic office buildings.


Detail of Kakashi (2013), by Zilvinas Kempinas at Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland.
Photo Daniel Spehl.

Zilvinas Kempinas at Socrates Sculpture Park, Astoria, Queens (May 11–August)

For what will be the largest outdoor project ever for both Socrates Sculpture Park and the Lithuanian, Queens-based artist, Zilvinas Kempinas will create Scarecrow, a 250-foot-long installation of 200 mirrored, stainless steel beams, which will support an undulating canopy of Mylar ribbons. Though it will no doubt serve its titular purpose of scaring off crows (and presumably just about every other type of bird), its shimmering reflective surfaces and enormous Instagram appeal will no doubt make it one of the spring and summer’s must-see art destinations. (To that end, Socrates is organizing a free shuttle bus that will connect the park to other nearby art attractions, namely the Noguchi Museum, SculptureCenter, and MoMA PS1.)


Installation view of Iván Navarro’s This Land Is Your Land in Madison Square Park (2014).
Photo by James Ewing Photography, New York. Courtesy of Madison Square Park Conservancy.

Ivan Navarro in Madison Square Park, Flatiron, Manhattan (through April 13)

The Chilean artist’s ode to New York City’s irresistible rooftop water towers—a popular urban icon with everyone from Rachel Whiteread to Marilyn Minter—has added appeal for the selfie-taking crowd, which will find one of Navarro’s beloved glowing mirror contraptions nestled beneath each of the wooden structures.


Rendering of Ed Ruscha, Honey, I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic Today, 1977 / 2014.
Courtesy of the artist, Gagosian Gallery, New York, and Friends of the High Line.

Ed Ruscha on the High Line, Chelsea, Manhattan (May 2014–May 2015)

Looming above walkers at West 22nd Street, Ed Ruscha’s mural marks the Los Angeles-based artist’s first public project in New York City. The mural’s titular text, “Honey, I Twisted Through More Damn Traffic Today,” will make for an appropriately Californian expression of road rage in spite of its bucolic setting.


Danh Vo, We the People (2010-13), at the New Museum in 2012.
Photo: Benjamin Sutton.

Danh Vo in City Hall Park, Manhattan, and Brooklyn Bridge Park, Brooklyn (May 17–December 5)

The rising star’s first major public project in New York City—previously glimpsed when a handful of pieces from the series were featured in the New Museum’s 2012 triennial—is unfathomably ambitious in scale, and consists of a some 50 large copper pieces from his full-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty in 250 copper plates. For this instance of Danh Vo’s We the People project, the fragments of Lady Liberty will be placed throughout City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridge Park—which happens to have direct views of the actual Statue of Liberty.

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