Museums, sculpture gardens to enjoy outside

SHERYL NANCE-NASH | 9/24/2020, midnight
When you think of museums, what likely comes to mind is a stroll through the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan ...
“Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies” Laura Hatcher Photography for Visit Alexandria photo

When you think of museums, what likely comes to mind is a stroll through the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Louvre in Paris or the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia, perhaps. But that said, there’s also plenty of great art in the outdoors.

At a time when there’s new appreciation for being outdoors, why not get sunshine, nature and art at the same time? All over the U.S. you’ll find sculpture gardens, outdoor museums and art trails to do just that.

Here are a few favorites.

Waterfront Park, Old Alexandria, Virginia

Brooklyn-based, Nigerian-born artist Olalekan Jeyifous was selected as the 2020 artist, presenting the second work in the city’s annual Site See series. His installation, “Wrought, Knit, Labors, Legacies,” frames Alexandria’s African American history through the lens of the city’s industrial and merchant history from the 17th to 20th centuries. Once a prosperous port city and manufacturing hub home to one of the largest domestic slave trading firms in the country, Alexandria’s early economy was intricately tied to the work of enslaved and free African Americans. The exhibit, through November, features four ornate metal figures rising from a vibrant ground mural. The work was inspired by the story behind Alexandria’s Black history and the Freedom House Museum, which was once the headquarters to one of the largest domestic slave-trading firms in the country.

Brookgreen Gardens, Murrells Inlet, South Carolina

Brookgreen Gardens opened to the public in 1931 and was among the first public sculpture gardens in the nation. It’s more than 9,000 acres and is home to more than 2,000 works by more than 450 artists. It’s a National Historic Landmark. There are tours, programs and exhibits. You’ll have a hard time deciding which is more impressive, the lush greenery or the comprehensive collective of figurative sculpture. Murrells Inlet is a mere 13 miles from the lively action of Myrtle Beach.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama

This open-air museum is on a six-acre park displaying the history of slavery and racism in America. This is the nation’s first and only memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved African Americans who were terrorized by lynching. You can get more Civil Rights culture with a guided walking tour of downtown’s Dexter Street, where you’ll find the Capitol Building, the former department store where Rosa Parks worked, a Rosa Parks statue, and Court Square Fountain, which is the former location of Montgomery’s slave trade and more.

Chapungu Sculpture Park, Loveland, Colorado

You never know what you’ll find when exploring Colorado. Chapungu Sculpture Park should be on your must-see list. It has the largest exhibit of Zimbabwe stone sculpture (82 pieces from 50+ Zimbabwe artists) and lies across 26 acres of natural and landscaped gardens. Eight unique exhibit areas tell the story of Zimbabwe life, from the role of women and family, to the spirit world and village life.

Artpark State Park, Lewiston, New York

You can pair this with a trip to Niagara Falls. It’s just seven miles north. The 108-acre park is atop the Niagara River Gorge. Check out the re-installation of “Niagara 1979” by Gene Davis. This painted parking lot piece is made up of 60 two-foot wide by 364-foot long lines rolled in nine different colors. Make your way through the upper and lower trails and take in the beauty of nature as well as large-scale sculptures and historic sites. Artpark is a short walk to Center Street with its boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. The park features live art, from outdoor concerts to interactive art installations.

Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, Minneapolis, Minnesota

This is said to be the largest urban sculpture garden in America. You’ll find more than 40 outdoor sculptures. Generations of artists from 10 different countries around the world created these artworks. Many of the works are made especially for this public park—from the iconic “Spoonbridge and Cherry” centerpiece to structures that offer spaces for gathering, conversation or just chilling. The garden’s showcase includes works from the Walker Art Center’s collections of modern and contemporary art.

Ogunquit Museum of American Art Seaside Landscape, Ogunquit, Maine

This idyllic spot is three acres of sculpture park and 17 small gardens. Better still, there are seaside views. Enjoy the works of Bernard Langlais, Lyford Cabot, Dorothea Greenbaum and Antoinette Schultz.  Top off your time in town with a stop at the beach, eateries and shopping.

Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at NOMA, New Orleans, Louisiana

Much as you want to wild out on Bourbon and Frenchmen Streets, you’ll cheat yourself if you don’t mellow out and visit the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden. It’s on 11 acres in City Park adjacent to the museum. The garden is full of pines, magnolias, and live oaks surrounding two lagoons. There are more than 90 sculptures, a world-class collection of over 60 modern and contemporary sculptures by artists such as Henry Moore, Fernando Botero and Antoine Bourdelle. You know New Orleans is all about being over-the-top. You don’t want to miss René Magritte’s surrealist sculpture, “The Labors of Alexander,” a bronze tree stump with roots that seem to stitch an axe to the ground, as well as Jean-Michel Othoniel’s “Tree of Necklaces,” a massive oak tree laden with oversized necklaces that hang among the moss.

Griffis Sculpture Park, East Otto, New York

The 450-acre park features over 250 large scale sculptures dispersed through miles of hiking trails in a scenery to stimulate your senses such as forests, ponds, wetlands and alpine meadows. Each sculpture was placed with the natural setting in mind, creating a unique synergy between art and nature.

Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park at the North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina

This museum park is on 164 acres of woodlands, open areas, walking trails and an amphitheater. Stroll through contemporary gardens, a promenade connecting the park and galleries, as well as the elliptical lawn overlooking the park’s rolling meadow. The vast trail system along the Capital Area Greenway is ideal for walking, jogging and cycling. There are more than 30 works of art surrounding the outside of the museum and along the trails and greenway paths. Highlights abound in the Rodin Garden and trio of Gyre rings.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum, Hamilton, Ohio

Get your fill of art with more than 80 outdoor sculptures set in 300+ acres of rolling hills, meadows and lakes. No worries if you don’t feel like walking. You can view the entire collection in an “Art Cart” which are available for rent on site. The park also features outdoor performances and rotating exhibits throughout the year.