Although time has been strange during the coronavirus pandemic, it really wasn’t all that long ago that museums and other cultural institutions remained entirely shuttered–unless, that is, if they opted to reopen their grounds, sculpture gardens, or other open-air components to visitors ahead of mass vaccinations or during localized lulls in outbreaks.
Beginning this spring and summer (and in some cases earlier), visiting the inside of an art space has been entirely possible and most are springing back to life (with health and safety precautions still in place.) But the pandemic, it would seem, has yielded increased enthusiasm in (and bolstered attendance at) outdoor art experiences. That is, venues in which to view sculptures, site-specific installations, and other works in an easier-to-spread-out manner, enjoy a breath of fresh air, and maybe sneak in a bit of exercise. During a time of extreme anxiety, dedicated sculpture gardens and open-to-the-public museum grounds provided an all-enriching antidote to quarantine tedium.
This all being said, fall is the perfect time to visit an open-air art space before winter sets in (and don a mask and step inside a museum’s adjoining indoor galleries if you haven’t already and feel comfortable doing so). From the Ozarks to the Berkshires to the East River shoreline in Queens, here are just a few outdoor art venues and museums with open-air exhibitions to consider checking out this fall:
The Clark Art Institute | Williamstown, Massachusetts
The clock is ticking to catch Ground/work, the Clark Art Institute’s inaugural outdoor exhibition featuring site-specific installations by Kelly Akashi, Nairy Baghramian, Jennie C. Jones, Eva LeWitt, Analia Saban, and Haegue Yang. Even after the show closes on October 17, the Clark’s bucolic Berkshires campus will remain a spectacular venue in which to set out on a brisk autumn stroll in the New England air. Designed by Reed Hilderbrand, the 140-acre museum campus features lawns, meadows, quiet walking trails, and long-term works by Jenny Holzer, Thomas Schütte, William Crovello, and Giuseppe Penone.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art | Bentonville, Arkansas
Crystal Bridges’ otherworldly North Forest Lights exhibition opened at the top of September for its third annual run. Nestled deep in a patch of Ozark forest on the museum’s trail-laced, 120-acre grounds, North Forest Lights, is an immersive light and sound experience that “invites people to reconnect with nature and art while making everyone feel part of it.” This year’s ultra-atmospheric experience includes five unique light and sound installations designed by the Montreal-based Moment Factory and closes on January 2. While admission to the museum proper (current special exhibitions include Julie Alpert: Altars, Keepsakes, Squiggles, and Bow and Selena Forever/Siempre Selena) is free, North Forest Lights is a ticketed attraction.
Separately exhibiting (for free) in Crystal Bridge’s North Forest is The Bruising: For Jules, The Bird, Jack and Leni, an outdoor-sculpture-slash-“living greenhouse” conceived by artist Rashid Johnson.
deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum | Lincoln, Massachusetts
Beginning October 15, deCordova Sculpture Park and Garden will be simultaneously home to two works by queer Mississippi Choctaw-Cherokee artist Jeffrey Gibson—one outdoors and one indoors. Joining Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House, a kaleidoscopic ziggurat first commissioned by Socrates Sculpture Park that began showing at DeCordova in June, is INFINITE INDIGENOUS QUEER LOVE, a new exhibition staged in the museum’s Linde Gallery. Complementing the large-scale outdoor Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House, the new Gibson exhibition includes, per the museum, a “series of collages, an immersive display featuring three hanging fringe sculptures, and recent videos created with collaborators, musicians, and performers. Shown together, these dazzling artistic expressions suggest that identity is pieced together by public life, popular culture, and intimate human bonds.”
INFINITE INDIGENOUS QUEER LOVE is on view through March 13 while Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House will remain installed on the 30-acre contemporary sculpture park’s front lawn until June 1. Other artists with sculptures currently on loan to deCordova include Jim Dine, Maren Hassinger, B.Wurtz, and Josephine Halvorson.
Franconia Sculpture Park | Shafer, Minnesota
It’s a momentous year for Franconia Sculpture Park, a 50-acre open-air contemporary art museum and community hub in Minnesota’s St. Croix River Valley that’s complemented by public art programming, educational camps and classes, and a major artist residency program. Founded in 1996, the Midwest’s self-described “pre-eminent, artist-centered sculpture park” is celebrating its 25th anniversary—a good reason for Minnesotans, neighboring Wisconsinites, and art lovers from further afield to visit this rural stretch of the North Star State. The museum grounds are free and open to the public 365 days a year.
Artists with works currently on exhibit at Franconia Sculpture Park (and there are many) include Melanie VanHouten, Kyle Fokken, Daniel Shieh, Samantha Persons, Martin Gonzales, April Martin, Amy Toscani, Foon Sham, and Jennifer Newsom and Tom Carruthers of Dream the Combine. As part of its varied and robust public programming, Franconia Sculpture Park also holds a popular outdoor film series; this year kicks off the first-ever Film @ Franconia: Fright Fest Edition with upcoming screenings of Midsommar, Ken Russell’s Lair of the White Worm, and Nosferatu, which will be scored live by Dreamland Faces.
Grounds for Sculpture | Hamilton, New Jersey
Located just outside of the Garden State’s capital city of Trenton, Grounds for Sculpture has fully reopened its indoor galleries following its temporary, pandemic-induced closure. Still, the main draw of the 42-acre New Jerseyan sculpture park is its celebrated collection of open-air works. (One famous former sculpture, founder Seward Johnson’s Forever Marilyn, is back in its original home of Palm Springs and causing a stir following a countrywide tour.) While a cool autumn afternoon is a perfect time to tour the park, Grounds for Sculpture will debut a rare nighttime experience later this fall. On view beginning November 26 and running through early February is Night Forms: dreamloop by Klip Collective, an “after-hours multi-sensory experience” that deploys a “unique synthesis of video projection, light and sound as a bridge between architecture, technology and storytelling.”
Laumeier Sculpture Park | Sunset Hils, Missouri
Dedicated to “engaging the community through art and nature,” Laumeier Sculpture Park was founded in 1976 as one of the first and largest dedicated sculpture parks in the United States. In addition to an extensive number of works on permanent view by artists including Niki de Saint Phalle, Charles Ginnever, Alexander Liberman, Donald Judd, Jenny Holzer, Beverly Pepper, Mary Miss, Tony Tasset, and Ernest Trova, Laumeier is currently hosting two special exhibitions at its leafy 105-acre campus just outside of St. Louis: Here by Pittsburgh-based artist Kim Beck and ŠTO TE NEMA, an “annual nomadic monument” by Laumeier’s 2021 Visiting Artist in Residence, the Bosnia and Herzegovina-born, New York City-based artist Aida Šehović. That exhibition is held indoors at the Aronson Fine Arts Center. Both are on view through December 19.
Socrates Sculpture Park | Long Island City, New York
Opening earlier this month and on view through March 6 is Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual open call exhibition. This year, artists were invited to submit proposals responding to the more-salient-than-ever meaning of sanctuary. “How can art function as a sanctuary, a place of refuge, rest, and meditation—without resorting to escapism?” the artists were asked.
In total, 11 projects were selected for the 2021 Socrates Annual, all representing “a range of interpretations, drawing from diverse communities, traditions, and artistic strategies to create unique sculptures and installation,” explained the museum. “Several threads emerge throughout the exhibition, including practices of self-care, the spiritual elements of natural phenomena, and meditations on the conditions that necessitate sanctuary.” Participating artists include Rachel Frank, Moko Fukuyama, Gi (Ginny) Huo, Levani (aka Levan Mindiashvili), Anina Major, Jeffrey Meris, Andrea Ray, LJ Roberts, Yvonne Shortt, Jenna Boldebuck, and Kelly Li, Monica Torres, and Monsieur Zohore.
Storm King Art Center | New Windsor, New York
Fall is a particularly lovely (and popular) time to spend a full day traversing the 500 acres of pristine, art-studded landscapes that comprise Storm King Art Center in New York’s lower Hudson Valley. While Storm King’s vast collection of large-scale outdoor sculptures and site-specific commissions by Maya Lin, Sol LeWitt, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, Andy Goldsworthy, Magdalena Abakanowicz, and others isn’t going anywhere, there are, however, a pair of special installations to catch before they close in the coming weeks, both on November 8: Rashid Johnson’s The Crisis and Martha Tuttle’s Outlooks exhibition, A stone that thinks of Enceladus. And new as of this June are two works by Sarah Sze: Fallen Sky, a permanent sculptural commission that is the first for Storm King in more than a decade, and an accompanying multimedia installation, Fifth Season, which is on view in Storm King’s Museum Building.