Any art lover knows what it’s like to stand in front of a canvas and feel captivated, enveloped, or even transported somewhere else entirely. After all, a powerful piece of art is by its very nature immersive, taking viewers to new places and leading them to new knowledge and insights. This sense of immersion can be all the more profound in the case of public art installations. These pieces invite audiences to walk around and inside them, welcoming them to microcosms of curiosity, whimsy and innovation.
The Tarot Garden
Such is the case with the Giardino die Tarocchi, or the Tarot Garden. This is a group of sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle in the picturesque Grosseto province of Tuscany. She set to work on her own dramatic magnum opus in 1978, and crafted it over the course of 20 years with the help of several assistants and many local townspeople.
Benesse Art Site Naoshima
This idea of having gardens as galleries — inclusive spaces where art dialogues with the natural landscape — is on display with nuance and grace at Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima. These three islands constitute the Benesse Art Site Naoshima, a global center for contemporary art and the most highly concentrated group of galleries in Japan.
It’s not an exaggeration to say there is art everywhere. Those lodging at the beautiful Benesse House will find art on the grounds, on the beaches and also in the onsite gallery. The Benesse House Museum stays open overnight for guests in the Oval and Museum buildings.
Situated in Lappland, Kiruna is the northernmost town in Sweden. It is well-known for the Icehotel in the nearby village of Jukkasjärvi. As its name implies, the Icehotel is entirely constructed from frozen water. Everything from the furniture and chandeliers to chapel is ice. The ice is retrieved each year from the river Torne. Naturally, ice melts: so the Icehotel is never the same twice, and must be built anew on an annual basis.
No two suites are ever the same, either. International artists and designers submit their ideas for the rooms. These artists shape the diverse spaces in that year’s iteration of the resort. Even ICEHOTEL 365 — a smaller, solar-powered annex that accommodates patrons all year — embraces the philosophy of ephemeral art, with exhibitions that constantly change.
The High Line
Public art and installation provide a space for critical intervention, provocation, and irony. Nowhere is this more apparent than the High Line in New York. Major contemporary artists make site-specific works that engage not only with the neighborhood or the city, but also national and world events. The High Line is a funky and unusual mash-up of a nature walk and a gallery crawl, and makes its way through southwest Manhattan from Gansevoort Street to 34th Street.
To the south of the High Line, the Esplanade includes an impressive exhibition of public art and installation, with works too numerous to name. Following the route from Pier A to Rockefeller Park in passes by several of them, and finding them all is a pleasure.
The slightly-grandiose Pavilion by Demetri Porphyrios is a welcome shelter for passersby in both sunshine and rain.
Tom Otterness’s The Real World is fun to view. The cryptic little figures vary considerably in style, and their content ranges from frivolous to foreboding.
Louise Bourgeois may be best known for Maman, her monumental spider sculpture molded in stainless steel and marble. Some may find its massive scale and twisted shapes freakish, but Maman is an iconic work of feminist art. It is a tribute to the artist’s mother, and appropriates arachnid motifs to represent the resourcefulness and strength of women.
With the original sculpture housed in London, and authentic bronze casts in Tokyo, Seoul, Ottawa, and Bilbao, this artwork has become a landmark to watch for when traveling the world. It may also pop up somewhere completely unexpected. In the last few years, Maman has made its way from Qatar to Mexico City to Stockholm. It might be fun just to follow it and see where it takes you.