Not all great art is in museums. Some of the world’s most interesting works are found outdoors, in public parks and open spaces you can walk right into (often for free). Between them, the world’s best open-air art displays contain installations from James Turrell, Gaudi and what might be the world’s most famous pumpkin.
Park Guell, Spain
At Park Guell, you can literally get lost in the work of architect Antoni Gaudí. The sweeping outdoor space is home to three kilometres of the modernist’s mosaiced streets, steps and a plaza (the site was originally intended as a housing estate and later converted to a public park). Exploring it is like walking through a brightly-coloured, brain-bending fairytale.
Cuban artist José Fuster was so inspired by Gaudí that he redesigned his Havana neighbourhood in the image of Park Guell. His street art project spans several blocks, with psychedelic touches added to everything from street signs and bus stops to Fuster’s own house. It couldn’t look more out of place in time-warped Havana, which is what makes it so utterly fascinating.
Naoshima Island, Japan
Naoshima takes a full day to reach by train from Tokyo but it’s worth the trip. This entire island is dedicated to contemporary art, including Yayomi Kusama’s much-photographed giant pumpkin. Head indoors to the island’s museums to admires works by the likes of James Turrell and Andy Warhol.
Inside Australia, Western Australia
Australia’s largest outdoor gallery isn’t in Sydney or Melbourne but way out in Western Australia’s goldfields, some 10 hours’ drive from Perth. Artist Antony Gormley installed 51 metal figures at Lake Ballard in 2002, peppering them across seven square kilometres of the lake’s dry bed. It would take you hours to see all the sculptures but the post-apocalyptic mood is immediately obvious.
East Side Gallery, Berlin
Few art spaces have as much historical significance as the East Side Gallery. While most of the Berlin Wall was dismantled after it officially fell in 1989, a 1.3-kilometre stretch was transformed by artists who captured the political shifts of the Cold War’s end. Today, it’s the world’s largest open-air mural collection, home to more than 100 different paintings.
Park of the Monsters, Italy
North of Rome, in the sleepy town of Bomarzo, is the Park of the Monsters, a beautiful and bizarre expression of one man’s grief. After the death of his wife in the 1550s, Prince Pier Francesco Orsini commissioned a series of surrealist sculptures that now sit covered in moss and surrounded by overgrown gardens. Artist Salvador Dalí visited the park and loved it, referencing the beasts in his later work.
Hakone Open Air Museum, Japan
More than 1000 sculptures dot the countryside at Japan’s Hakone Open Air Museum, a madcap collection that includes a giant crochet playground and a towering spiral staircase. Works from renowned artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore can also be found in the 70,000-square-metre space.
Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, Norway
You can seek out installations from Marina Abramović and James Turrell at Ekebergparken, Oslo’s sprawling modern sculpture park. The park might be relatively new (it opened in 2013) but it’s home to a piece of art history – from here you can also see the view that inspired Edvard Munch’s celebrated painting The Scream.
Gibbs Farm Sculpture Park, New Zealand
More than two dozen artists (including Anish Kapoor) have sculptures at Gibbs Farm, one of the world’s most unlikely art spaces. The farm’s exhibits are owned by art collector Alan Gibbs, who opens his property to the public free of charge on select days of the year.