7 Powerful Pieces of Public Art You Should See Right Now

By Rachel Corbett |

Courtesy of Mark Chatterley

Public art often elicits strong reactions, from the 1980s battle in New York surrounding the removal of Richard Serra’s massive steel Tilted Arc to recent sneers that a three-story bronze of Marilyn Monroe, skirt blown in the air, provided Chicagoans little more than an opportunity for tasteless selfies. What critics hail a masterpiece, taxpayers may deem an eyesore, and often the only thing remaining is a deeper rift between the two. Yet despite the ever-present risk of offending somebody, each year American cities fund ambitious, sometimes-brilliant ideas from all kinds of artists. Here is a sampling of some of the most eye-catching public installations on view this spring and summer.

“Residents of New York” by Andres Serrano (New York) 

The nonprofit More Art is staging photographer Andres Serrano's “full occupation” of New York City’s West Fourth Street subway station this month by plastering its walls with dozens of large-scale portraits of homeless people. Other images and documentation from the project will be on view at the Judson Memorial Church, around Washington Square, and in telephone booths throughout the city.

Courtesy of More Art

“Wildflowering LA” by Fritz Haeg (Los Angeles) 

Fifty vacant lots and lawns across Los Angeles County are bursting into bloom thanks to the culmination of eco-artist Fritz Haeg's new project. Last fall, Haeg offered local landowners free packets of native wildflower seeds and taught them how to plant and nurture them. The flowers, now at their peak, will die off this summer and then return again next spring.

Courtesy of Isabel Avila

“Symbiosis” by Roxy Paine (Philadelphia) 

Next month, the sculptor Roxy Paine will transform 3.5 tons of cold industrial steel into a willowy tree with branches extending like delicate dendrites. The 34-foot-tall installation, which is part of the artist’s “Dendroids” series, will be on view at the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for a year.

Courtesy of Roxy Paine

“Tropical Fort Point” by Peter Agoos (Boston)

The artist and designer Peter Agoos is offering Bostonians a glimpse at what the city could look like in a climate-changed future. Agoos has set more than a dozen palm trees afloat in the Fort Point Channel harbor, on view through June 15.

© Sylvia Stagg-Giuliano

“Blue Human Condition” by Mark Chatterley (Adrian, Michigan)

Is it a symbol of unity or an orgy? That’s the question plaguing artist Mark Chatterley’s sculpture of seven androgynous, intertwined figures, which officials in the small town of Adrian, Michigan, have just moved to the less-trafficked Yew Park to placate offended residents. Chatterley has said that the piece wasn’t meant to convey any sexual innuendos, but is instead a symbol of humanity’s interdependence.

Courtesy of Mark Chatterley

“A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant” by Kara Walker (Brooklyn)

Kara Walker takes her racially charged imagery to new heights with the unveiling of her 35-foot-tall sugar sphinx—restyled as a stereotypical black woman—in an abandoned warehouse at Brooklyn’s old Domino Sugar Factory. Perhaps the best description of the work is its lengthy title. (F&W was lucky enough to visit Walker at the factory during the project’s construction phase. See their coverage and photos here.)

© Lawrence Marcus

“Iridescent Cloud” by Haddad and Drugan (Denver)

For their aptly titled sculpture, the Seattle artist duo Haddad and Drugan suspended hundreds of tiny clear prisms into a geometric, quartz-like structure recently installed at the plaza of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. As the work changes with the sunlight, it resembles Colorado’s own, naturally occurring iridescent clouds.

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