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What’s The Best Public Sculpture I Know? Easy

CG4Public sculpture is certainly having a moment in the sun – maybe years in the sun.

Just in the last few weeks, the Nasher Sculpture Center has opened Nasher Xchange, the Seattle Art Museum announced that it had received the 46-foot-tall “Echo,” by Jaume Plensa as a gift from American art collector Barney A. Ebsworth, the Public Art Fund in New York said it would erect “a playful new commission by Olaf Breuning entitled Clouds,” which will be installed at the southeast entrance to Central Park this spring, and the Madison Square Park Conservancy’s Mad. Sq. Art announced a new sculptural installation for late winter 2014 called This Land Is Your Land by Brooklyn-based Chilean artist Iván Navarro.

CG2But last weekend I finally saw, in person, what may be the best public sculpture in the U.S. of the 2001-2010 decade, and maybe of the 21st century so far. I am referring to Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, AKA the Bean, in Chicago’s Millennium Park. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t praise this  33 by 66 by 42 feet piece, which and weighs 110 tons, and was dedicated in 2006.

Cloud Gate, supposedly inspired by liquid mercury, reflects the city’s skyline, sometimes in a distorted way — but it’s always gorgeous and it clearly beguiles people.

Take a look at these pictures, which I took — at the way children, teenagers and adults love this piece.

CG1It is fascinating to look at and to watch others look at it.








I’d be happy to learn of anything better.

Photo Credits:  © Judith H. Dobrzynski 


  1. Chris Crosman says

    I suppose there are many candidates–and “best” sculpture will always remain in the eye of the beholder. However, I nominate the first and still “best” in my opinion. The Eiffel Tower in Paris. I think it qualifies as a free-standing sculpture and is certainly beloved by people throughout the world. Runner-up? The Statue of Liberty! Contemporary work–Maya Lin’s Viet Nam Memorial! Cloud Gate is terrific but Turrell’s Roden Crater blows it out of the water when/if it becomes open to the public.

    • Thanks for your comment — but note that I qualified my “best” appellation by saying “in the U.S.” and the 21st century!

      • Chris Crosman says

        Yes, you do limit works to the 21st century and Kapoor’s Cloud Gate is a worthy contender for best of the newest outdoor work. I guess my point is that there has always been outdoor public sculpture going back to the Colossus of Rhodes and earlier, long since lost examples from antiquity through the late 20th century. Pleasing the passing crowd is an important criterion but so are challenging notions of “public” and definitions of sculpture. Along with Lin’s “wall” (okay there are other addons that are part of the Viet Nam memorial–forgettable as they are) James Turrell’s Quaker Meeting structure/sky space in Houston gets my vote for best extant outdoor public sculpture by a living artist. Serra’s Tilted Arc would also be in the running had it not been removed and thereby destroyed.

        • one hardly needs reminding that public sculpture has been around along time. This post was triggered by several recent announcements and my trip to Chicago, nothing more, nothing less.

  2. The best public sculpture in the U.S. of the 21st century so far? How about Meredith Bergmann’s Boston Women’s Memorial [ ]?

    The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, by the way, is not by Maya Lin. Only the Wall is by her. The other two official parts are Glenna Goodacre’s ‘Vietnam Women’s Memorial [ ] and Frederick Hart’s ‘Three Servicemen” [ ]. See the Wikipedia article for further information.

    (As an aside, I would argue that much of the work cited in this post (including ‘Cloud Gate’), and in Chris Crosman’s comment, does not qualify as art.)

    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts), Co-Author, ‘What Art Is: The Esthetic Theory of Ayn Rand’ (2000)

  3. Barbara Chalsma says

    Cloud Gate compels children of all ages to interact with it. They take delight in how everything is distorted–the clouds, the buildings, themselves. Cloud Gate’s beauty elicits playfulness, which is not a bad thing.

  4. Duff Anderson says

    This installation by Artist Chris Hanson and Hendrika Sonnenberg on the waterfront in Halifax Canada is an absolutely fantastic sculpture. The public is so enjoying this installation.

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