The World's Most Awe-Inspiring Sculpture Gardens

yorkshire sculpture park

Photo: Flickr/lorraineemmans

There is something almost otherworldly about viewing art in the outdoors. Strolling among large-scale sculptures dotting acres of rolling hills can have a certain sci-fi quality, the looming constructions seemingly rising out of the dirt to claim their stake.(Needless to say, it’s easy to let your mind get carried away.) It’s an experience that calls on all the senses, and it can be had in myriad places around the world.

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It’s no secret that art and nature have enjoyed an intimate long-term relationship since, essentially, both came into being. Thankfully, pairing the two—whether on 18th-century estate grounds in Wakefield, England (Yorkshire Sculpture Park), or on 227 acres in the capital city of China’s Jilin Province (Changchun World Sculpture Park)—still has a way of feeling novel. Pieces with no apparent connection to the outdoors settle into hills, dales, thickets and gardens. The elements also play a key role; no matter how you feel about a sculpture, your perception invariably shifts in blazing heat, freezing cold, drizzling rain or dappled sunlight.   

Viewing these art collections also gives you a fascinating glimpse into the history and personality of a city. Vigeland Park in Oslo, Norway, is the handiwork of a single artist, Gustav Vigeland, who worked on everything from its 200-plus sculptures to the landscaping and arrangement of the works along its roughly half-mile-long stretch. Chianti Sculpture Park in Siena, Italy, on the other hand, showcases a variety of pieces hailing from 25 different countries in materials ranging from glass to bronze and steel to granite.

These outdoor exhibits are also occasionally part of a larger mission. The nine acres that make up Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington, are courtesy of a collaboration between the Seattle Art Museum and the Trust for Public Land, which set out to preserve the untouched waterfront site. The result? An eye-opening public space that begs to be explored—just like rest of the parks on this list.

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This story was originally published by Departures.

Storm King Art centre, Mountainville, New York

recognised as one the best sculpture parks in the country--if not the world--Storm King and its 500 acres of rolling hills and woods house more than 100 sculptures. While many pieces are done in steel, you'll find stone (like Andy Goldsworthy's Five Men, Seventeen Days, Fifteen Boulders, One Wall) and other mediums,

as well as pieces by artists like Magdalena Abakanowicz, Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg and Sol LeWitt. Special exhibits rotate in and out, so the permanent collection is routinely augmented with new things to see. An entire afternoon here goes by before you know it. Old Pleasant Hill Rd.; 845-534-3115;

Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

While many outdoor sculpture collections cherry-pick from a host of different artists, Oslo's massive Vigeland Park is the handiwork of one: Gustav Vigeland. From the more than 200 pieces displayed--Vigeland favoured wrought iron, granite and bronze--to the landscaping and arrangement of the sculptures, the artist spearheaded the entire process. (The park was completed between 1939 and 1949.)

Stroll its 2,800-foot length and acquaint yourself with well-known works such as Vigeland's rendering of a stomping-angry little boy or his famous piece The Wheel of Life. The figures practically vibrate with energy--you half expect them to hop down and run away. Nobels Gate 32; 47-23/493-700;

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wakefield, England

Located on the Bretton Estate, which dates back to the 18th century, Yorkshire Sculpture Park houses five indoor galleries on 500 acres of land, with no less than 60 sculptures on display at any given time. Restoring the historic grounds is an ongoing project, and the lakes and woods opened to the public (more than 300,000 people visit annually) last summer.

What began as a 31-sculpture exhibition 33 years ago has grown into a preeminent park, featuring artists like Anthony Caro, Henry Moore, William Turnbull and Isamu Noguchi and rotating exhibitions, including the first sizable showing in the UK of sculpture by Joan Miró (through January 1, 2013). West Bretton; 44-1924/832-631;

Billy Rose Art Garden, Jerusalem, Israel

This collection at the Israel Museum was originally designed by renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi and founded by U.S. impresario Billy Rose and offers a peaceful, relaxed environment in which to view an impressive lineup of works. Look for Picasso's concrete Profile, Alexander Calder's The Sun at Croton, an outsized apple core made of aluminium by Claes Oldenburg and Rodin's Adam. POB 71117; 972-2/670-8811;

Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle, Washington

In a winning example of city preservation, Olympic Sculpture Park, which opened in 2007, is a collaboration between the Seattle Art Museum and the Trust for Public Land. The partnership set out to preserve the site--the city's last open piece of waterfront property--and the resulting nine-acre institution overlooks the majestic Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. (The park has won 19 design, architecture and engineering awards, and is a popular gathering place for Seattle locals.)

A Z-shaped path leads visitors through the permanent collection, packed with stunners such as Typewriter Eraser, Scale X by Claes Oldenburg and Coo sje van Bruggen and Father and Son by Louise Bourgeois. 2901 Western Ave.; 206-654-3100;

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