While some indoor museums and galleries have slowly begun to reopen at reduced capacity, outdoor sculpture gardens are a great way to experience art minus the walls, often in a beautiful setting. Thankfully, there are art-filled sculpture gardens and art parks across the country, some attached to larger indoor museums, and some entirely focused on the outdoor experience. Some are in cities, while many are in more rural environments, affording acres of wide open spaces amid nature. Here are the top 15 outdoor sculpture gardens in the U.S. worth a visit.
Storm King Art Center
Just an hour’s drive north from New York City lies 500 acres of outdoor space dedicated to large-scale, modern sculptural art. Storm King features rolling hills, leafy forests, grassy meadows, glassy ponds, and bubbling streams, with modern sculptures dotted across the landscape. Sculptures by artists like Henry Moore, Andy Goldsworthy, Sol LeWitt, Alexander Calder, Louise Bourgeois, and Tomio Miki are spread throughout, and some works are built directly into the landscape, like Maya Lin’s undulating "Wavefield." There is a large permanent collection (more than 100 pieces) as well as rotating sculptures in some areas. Because the site is so large, be prepared for a lot of walking.
Expect to drive through some farmland before arriving at Glenstone, even though it’s still considered to be in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The nearly 300-acre space, which began in 2006 with a single building of indoor art, expanded to a massive sculpture garden and several buildings at the end of 2018. Visitors are led along multiple carefully-landscaped paths through woodlands, alongside streams, and across flower-filled meadows, with a highly curated selection of 20th and 21st-century artworks strategically placed along the way. The massive, flower-covered "Split-Rocker" by Jeff Koons is hard to miss, but be sure to seek out three Andy Goldsworthy structures, two looming Richard Serra metalwork sculptures, and the creeping, spider-like aluminum "Smug" by Tony Smith. The architecture of the buildings that house the indoor collections rise from the grounds like pieces of art themselves, with carefully placed reflecting pools. If you can make it indoors, you’ll catch pieces by the likes of Brice Marden, Cy Twombly, Roni Horn, and Lorna Simpson.
Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden
Nestled in New Orleans City Park, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden, which is part of the New Orleans Museum of Art, underwent an expansion in 2019, more than doubling its size. The garden is now home to more than 90 sculptures set amid the unique Gulf coast vegetation. Contemporary commissioned works by artists like Jeppe Hein and Teresita Fernández were inspired by the surroundings including tree canopies, wide lawns, cypress islands, and a 2-acre lagoon, all of which are connected by pedestrian bridges designed to complement the landscape. Some pieces are placed in the water, like Katharina Fritsch’s "Schädel (Skull)" and Kenneth Snelson’s "Virlane Tower," while Elyn Zimmerman "Mississippi Meanders" is a tempered glass bridge that stretches across the lagoon. Jean-Michel Othoniel’s "L’Arbre Aux Colliers (Tree of Necklaces)" also utilizes the grounds, with glass and stainless steel strands hung on a live oak tree.
deCordova Sculpture Park
New England’s largest outdoor art venue, deCordova is about 20 miles west of Boston and sits on the 30-acre former estate of collectors Julian and Elizabeth de Cordova. The couple donated the property to the city of Lincoln, as long as it became a public art museum. Today, the sculpture garden in a wooded area by Flint Pond is home to works by Nam June Paik, Andy Goldsworthy, Jaume Plensa, Dorothy Dehner, and Ursula von Rydingsvard. Be sure to interact with Paul Matisse’s "Musical Fence" and pose in front of Jim Dine’s "Two Big Black Hearts"—especially evocative covered in snow. Visitors can expect about 60 sculptures on display outside, as well as a small indoor museum.
The sprawling Newfields campus includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Lilly House, and this 100-acre sculpture park, complete with walking and biking trails and a lake. Most of the works encourage interaction, like Atelier Van Leshout’s iconic "Funky Bones" (made up of 20 fiberglass benches that look like a skeleton from far away) and visiondivision’s "Chop Stick," an interactive playground made from a fallen tree. The Newfields campus also includes formal gardens and a beer garden, so it’s easy to spend an entire day here.
Laumeier Sculpture Park
Open to the public since 1976, this 105-acre park blends nature and art about 15 miles west of downtown St. Louis. Visitors can explore multiple trails and view Tony Tasset’s oft-photographed 38-foot-high "Eye," Beverly Pepper’s tent-like "Alpha," Steve Tobin’s "Walking Roots," Donald Judd’s concrete "Untitled" (1984), the site-specific "Laumeier Project" by Jackie Ferrara, and multiple works by Ernest Trova, whose initial donation of 40 works helped get the museum started.
Opened by the Seattle Art Museum in 2007 at a former industrial site along the Elliott Bay waterfront, this 9-acre park is now the largest green space in the city. Views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for the 20 artworks. Visitors can meander the zigzag path and see pieces by Louise Nevelson, Ginny Ruffner, Roy McMakin, Ellsworth Kelly, Mark di Suvero, and one of Jaume Plensa’s enormous heads, this one modeled on a 9-year-old girl.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Created through a partnership between the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, this 11-acre park opened in 1988 adjacent to the museum. It houses some of the most famous sculptures in the world, including the iconic "Spoonbridge and Cherry" by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Other famous works include "The Spinner" by Alexander Calder, "Salute to Painting" by Roy Lichtenstein, "Sky Pesher, 2005" by James Turrell, and "Rapture" by Kiki Smith. In Summer 2019 the garden unveiled its newest addition, a commission by local artists Ta-coumba T. Aiken, Rosemary Soyini Vinelle Guyton, and Seitu Jones called "Shadows at the Crossroads."
Donald J. Hall Sculpture Park
In 1986, the Hall Family Foundation acquired 57 pieces by Henry Moore, and acquired ten more in 1989. In 1992, the foundation started a modern sculpture initiative, adding pieces like the famous Claes Oldenburg’s and Coosje van Bruggen’s site-specific "Shuttlecocks," and in 1996 the foundation donated all of their 84 acquisitions to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. Other works at the 22-acre park close to the museum include Magdalena Abakanowicz’s "Standing Figures (Thirty Figures)," Roxy Paine’s "Ferment," and "The Glass Labyrinth" by Robert Morris, a commission on the occasion of the park’s 25th anniversary, when it was renamed for Donald J. Hall.
Though small, the sculpture garden belonging to the National Gallery of Art contains iconic pieces by some of the world’s greatest sculptors, including Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s "Typewriter Eraser," Sol LeWitt's "Four-Sided Pyramid," Louise Bourgeois’s "Spider," Robert Indiana’s "Amor," Roy Lichtenstein’s "House I," Roxy Paine’s Graft, and Marc Chagall’s "Orphée," a 10 by 17-foot mosaic made out of glass and stone. Interestingly, the garden also displays one of French architect Hector Guimard’s original Art Nouveau-style Parisian Métro entrances, made out of cast iron in 1913 and restored by the museum.
Art Omi Sculpture & Architecture Park
While Storm King in New York gets a lot of recognition, this outdoor art park just a little bit further north is also worth a trip. Art Omi is spread across 300 acres of open fields and forest in the Hudson Valley. There are more than 60 works of art and architecture, including sculptures by Oliver Kruse, Tony Tassett, Donald Lipski, Beverly Pepper, Dewitt Godfrey, and Will Ryman. A separate part of the park is dedicated to architecture, which facilitates projects exploring the intersection of architecture, art, and landscape by architects, including pieces by Cameron Wu, an architecture professor at Princeton University, and Steven Holl, of Steven Holl Architects, whose piece made from robotically-cut CLT serves as a sun gauge.
Franklin D. Murphy Sculpture Garden
There are about 70 modern sculptures spread across this 5-acre sculpture garden on the grounds of the University of California, Los Angeles, including four bronze bas-reliefs by Henri Matisse. Overseen by the Hammer Museum, the collection consists mostly of pieces from the 20th century, except for a Richard Serra curved steel piece from 2006. Other artists represented include Auguste Rodin, Hans Arp, Joan Miro, Anna Mahler, and Isamu Noguchi, whose sculptures mingle among rolling lawns and perfectly placed trees.
Best known for its Frank Lloyd Wright home that’s open to the public (by tour only), Kentuck Knob also has a modern sculpture collection with pieces placed around the house and in the surrounding woodlands. There are more than 30 artworks on the property, including one of Andy Goldsworthy’s earliest commissions, as well as pieces by Anthony Caro, Wendy Taylor, David Nash, and Phillip King. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house is also nearby.
The lush, rambling 9,100-acres of Brookgreen Gardens near Myrtle Beach contain one of the most significant collections of outdoor figurative sculpture by American artists in the world. The land is also a wildlife preserve and contains the Lowcountry Zoo and several themed gardens. It was previously the site of four rice plantations. Archer and Anna Hyatt Huntington from Connecticut purchased the plantations to create gardens to showcase Anna’s sculptures. When it opened as a public garden in 1932 it was the first public sculpture garden in the country. Today there are more than 2,000 pieces in the collection, with works by Anna Huntington as well as Karl Gruppe, Cornelia Van Auken Chapin, Edith Howland, Donald De Lue, Marion Sanford, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The Lowcountry Trail features a restored rice field from the plantation, four archaeological structural remains from that time, as well as panels that describe slave life on the plantation.
Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park
Affectionately called theNate, this art park about 40 miles south of Chicago contains 30 large-scale sculptures spread across 100 acres of prairie landscape. Visitors can see pieces like Tony Tasset’s first major piece, the 30-foot tall lumberjack "Paul," Bruce Nauman’s "House Divided," James Brenner’s twisting "Passage," and "Bodark Arc," set into the land itself by artist Martin Puryear. It is so large it can only fully be seen from the air.