11 of the World’s Greatest Sculpture Parks, from Seattle to Oslo

Rachel Lebowitz
Apr 8, 2018 2:25PM

The tradition of mounting works of art outdoors in nature stretches back for centuries. In the late 1500s, for example, Henry VIII adorned his gardens at Nonsuch Palace in Surrey, England, with sculptures inspired by Greek mythology. In Renaissance Italy, nobles like the Medicis bedecked their gardens with Classical pieces excavated from ruins. And at the end of the 17th century, Louis XIV lavishly decorated the sprawling grounds of Versailles with over 200 sculptures made of marble, bronze, and lead. Later, when site-specific outdoor sculptures were first commissioned in the 1800s, the earliest iterations of what we now consider sculpture parks began to emerge. Today, these outdoor spaces around the world strike a delightful balance between nature and art, displaying a wide range of work, from massive contemporary sculptures to earthworks and subtler, historic pieces.

What’s more, while indoor museums are often crowded, sculpture parks provide a respite; their ample environments are designed to make appreciating art a harmonious experience in nature. Highlighting the similarities between natural spaces and works of art, Isamu Noguchi once said, “I like to think of gardens as sculpturing of space.”

Below, we share 11 extraordinary sculpture parks you can visit across three continents.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Seattle, WA

Built on a former industrial site, Olympic Sculpture Park sits alongside Elliott Bay’s eastern shoreline. The park is perched above the city on an elevated swath of green space peppered with evergreen and deciduous trees, affording stunning views of the bay (visitors can follow a path down to the water) and the Olympic Mountains.

Open since 2007, the park is run by the Seattle Art Museum and houses both a permanent collection and rotating exhibitions, with works by Alexander Calder, Tony Smith, and Richard Serra, to name a few. One of the more recent pieces, Spanish artist Jaume Plensa’s monumental Echo (2011), has been a waterfront fixture since 2014. Named after a nymph from Greek mythology, the 46-foot-tall head gazes across the Puget Sound toward the Olympic Mountains, a gesture that nods to the mythical home of the Greek gods, Mount Olympus.

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park

Grand Rapids, MI


Spanning 158 acres of land with both indoor and outdoor spaces, this park mounts three temporary exhibitions per year in addition to its permanent collection. The latter includes works that date from the mid-1800s to the present, with pieces by famed sculptors including Auguste Rodin, Henry Moore, Ai Weiwei, Louise Bourgeois, and Barbara Hepworth situated within lush meadows, trees, ponds, and waterfalls. Other highlights include a Japanese garden with works by Jenny Holzer, Zhang Huan, and Anish Kapoor; a “carnivorous plant house,” the only one of its kind in the U.S.; and an indoor tropical garden.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

Minneapolis, MN

After a year-long expansion and renovation initiative, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopened in summer 2017, renewing access to iconic, longstanding pieces like Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–88) and Martin Puryear’s Gog & Magog (Ampersand) (1988).

The new-and-improved garden also includes 17 additional works, including German sculptor Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock (2013), a humorously irreverent 10-foot-tall blue rooster that originally sat in London’s Trafalgar Square. In Minneapolis, the piece has taken on new meaning, recalling Minnesota’s history of poultry farming. In addition to adding new pieces—which include Theaster Gates’s first-ever permanent open-air commission—the renovation also physically connected the sculpture garden with its parent institution, the Walker Art Center, through a sculpture-dotted green space.

Storm King Art Center

Windsor, NY

Daytripping distance from New York City, Storm King boasts tranquil hills and open fields sprinkled with monumental sculptures by Mark di Suvero, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, and Nam June Paik, among others. Over 100 works in total sit on its ample 500 acres, which give the art room to breathe and allow for an experience of discovery. The grounds include beloved land art pieces, including Maya Lin’s Storm King Wavefield (2007–08), a series of undulating hills (recently popularized on Aziz Ansari’s hit Netflix show Master of None), and Andy Goldsworthy’s Storm King Wall (1997–98), a 2,278-foot-long wall made from stones that meanders through trees and across the park. From its lauded temporary exhibitions to public programming including bird-watching and yoga, Storm King aims to foster an appreciation for sculpture and enrich the local community.

Hakone Open-Air Museum

Hakone, Japan

Just under 60 miles southwest of Tokyo, Japan’s first outdoor art museum (founded in 1969) is spread across a modest 17-acre plot that serves as the permanent home to some 120 sculptures, both outdoors and inside a gallery. The museum aims to cultivate the enjoyment of both nature and art, where even those who have no prior art knowledge can, according to the museum’s website, “nurture [their] soul.” In step with this philosophy, the space features a hot spring foot bath, where visitors can recharge after a day of walking; several kid-friendly, interactive sculptural spaces designed for a mixture of play and relaxation; and Gabriel Loire’s Symphonic Sculpture (1975), a steel-and-glass tower with a somewhat Brutalist exterior and a stained glass interior, which visitors can climb to see sweeping, mountainous views from the top.

The park also features pieces by international artists including Niki de Saint Phalle, Joan Miró, and Barry Flanagan, plus 11 sculptures by Henry Moore, along with an indoor pavilion dedicated to Pablo Picasso, which includes some 300 of the Spanish artist’s works.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Wakefield, United Kingdom

Yorkshire Sculpture Park opened in 1977 as the first permanent park of its kind in the U.K. It now hosts some 80 sculptures and installations on its 500-acre country garden estate, complete with fields, dirt paths, scattered trees, and wooded areas. Visitors are free to wander the far-flung grounds, happening across sculptures alongside grazing sheep.

In addition to temporary exhibitions by artists like Alfredo Jaar, Ai Weiwei, and Zak Ové, the park boasts a robust permanent collection of works by British sculptors including Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Anthony Caro, Antony Gormley, Lynn Chadwick, Marc Quinn, and Elisabeth Frink, as well as international counterparts like James Turrell, Jaume Plensa, Joan Miró, and Mark di Suvero. With an eye towards accessibility, the park has free admission, provides scooters to guests who need mobility assistance, and offers educational programing in tandem with each exhibition.

Ekeberg Park

Oslo, Norway

The wide-ranging collection at Oslo’s Ekebergparken (or Ekeberg Park) includes artists from Auguste Rodin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir to Salvador Dalí and Oslo-born sculptor Per Ung, all of whom are represented through figurative bronzes. Meanwhile, pieces by Damien Hirst and the Norwegian artists Knut Steen and Hilde Mæhlum push the boundaries of traditional figuration.

A strong contingent of female artists is represented, too, including one of Jenny Holzer’s signature text-based pieces; a curious, phallic form by Sarah Lucas; and a Sarah Sze installation that doubles as a birdhouse. There are also immersive light-and-color works by James Turrell, as well as Tony Oursler’s Klang (2013),a site-specific, video-and-sound-based installation that is embedded in a small cave and traces the history of human communication, from ancient runes to cell phones. Open 24 hours per day, the park allows visitors to discover these pieces and more as they explore the forest-lined paths, take in views of the Oslo Fjord, and even stand on the spot that inspired the landscape in Edvard Munch’s The Scream (1893).

Kröller-Müller Museum and Sculpture Garden

Otterlo,  Netherlands

With nearly 90 paintings and more than 180 drawings by Vincent van Gogh, the Kröller-Müller Museum houses the world’s second-largest collection of the Dutch artist’s work (after the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam). Outside the museum is a 60-plus-acre sculpture garden that gives way to some 160 pieces by the likes of Lucio Fontana, Jean Dubuffet, Pierre Huyghe, and Aristide Maillol.

Opened in 1961 and now one of Europe’s largest sculpture gardens, Kröller-Müller also offers inviting spaces for relaxation or picnicking and pathways for running or strolling, as well as pavilions by Dutch architects Aldo van Eyck and Gerrit Rietveld. The museum and park are both situated within the magnificent Hoge Veluwe National Park—which visitors can explore on complimentary bicycles—where deer, fox, wild boar, and various birds and reptiles can be spotted amongst marshes, grasslands, and trees.

Changchun World Sculpture Park

Changchun, China

The pièce de resistance of the sprawling Changchun World Sculpture Park is a 97-foot-tall concrete sculpture entitled Friendship, Peace and Spring, which is a joint work of five Chinese sculptors. Standing for global unity, the title of the piece is also the theme of the park as a whole, which embraces an East-meets-West, classical-meets-contemporary program.

Divided into five sections, each representing a different continent, the park contains some 450 sculptures by artists from over 200 countries and territories, with Mayan, Maori, and Eskimo art all represented. Also present are multiple indoor museums, including one dedicated to African art. Open since 2003, the park is nestled within Changchun City; towering apartment buildings and power lines serve as a reminder of the bustling urban center located just outside the park’s peaceful green spaces, replete with trees and water features.

Park Güell

Barcelona, Spain

A short trek from Barcelona’s city center, Park Güell is a whimsical wonderland, designed at the turn of the 20th century by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. Though it’s not your typical sculpture park, it’s a mesmerizing embodiment of Gaudí’s deft ability to enmesh art, design, and architecture—from the widespread use of brilliant ceramic tiles to the dreamy gingerbread house-like structures that guard the entrance.

Gaudí’s style arose as part of a uniquely Catalan interpretation of Art Nouveau, which embraced its new aesthetic while employing traditional building techniques. Commissioned by businessman Eusebi Güell, the park promises conventional elements like walkways, shaded colonnades, and outdoor seating, yet all with Gaudí’s unmistakable playful spin. Columns tilt at an angle; a serpentine bench adorned with dazzling mosaics winds its way around an elevated pavilion with panoramic views of Barcelona; and an iconic mosaic lizard fountain guards the park’s main staircase. Gaudí himself lived on the property beginning in 1906, and his home now operates as the Gaudí House Museum.

Lough Boora Sculpture Park

Boora, Ireland

Settled by mesolithic peoples nearly 10,000 years ago, the Lough Boora bogland has a rich history and impressive biodiversity. Within the park, five main trails cover over 30 miles of wetlands, lakes, and grasslands, which serve as habitats for frogs, dragonflies, wild goats, and some 130 bird species. Operated by the Bord na Móna company, the park is dedicated to conservation and sustainability, and its sculptural program follows suit.

The 24 works here are made from natural and industrial materials from the bog area, including wood, stone, and railway tracks, which have, in turn, been transformed by their environment through weathering or plant growth. Coupling harmoniously with their natural surroundings are pieces like Padraig Larkin’s The Celtic Knot, made from a local 5,000-year-old pine tree and glacial rock, and David Kinane’s Boora Convergence (2006), a latticed steel-and-wood structure intended to mirror both the local cooling towers and the drainage lines carved throughout the bog.

Rachel Lebowitz