New York City is a hub for art but if you want to get out of the city for a day or weekend, there are some great outdoor sculpture parks within a two-hour radius of the city. It’s hard to describe the feeling of wandering around these giant landscapes and spotting the curious mirage-like works of art in the distance as you make your way to get a closer look. These sculpture parks bring you to artful destinations and are still only a day-trip away. Just head to the Hudson Valley, drive a bit upstate to Saugerties or out to the New Jersey countryside…even hop the Long Island Railroad over to Nassau County and be home the same day.
1. Opus 40
This 50-acre outdoor sculpture park Opus 40 in Saugerties, NY is the lifework of visionary artist Harvey Fite. Made using the ancient Mayan method of stacking and fitting stone, Fite worked only with traditional quarryman’s tools for thirty years creating this land art. It is a remarkable sight to behold, traverse, hike and scramble through,
Opus 40 started in 1938 after Fite purchased an abandoned bluestone quarry, He became a pioneer in the contemporary earthworks movement with the building of Opus 40. The compound exists of several walkways, memorial stones, natural pools, stairs and subterranean passageway. Features include a 13-foot monolith, and an amphitheater.
Many of Fite’s stone sculptures dot the sculpture park. An area encourages visitors to create their own stacked sculptures from the hundreds of stones scattered about.
There are some interesting added experiences when you visit OPUS 40. They include a one room museum which houses all the various hand tools that Fite used to build and sculpt as well as other artifacts from the history of the site. Larger tool relics adorn the building facades and are beautiful for their incredible patina (well, rust really!), size and design. Below the museum. which is on the second floor of the main barn is a sweet and nicely curated shop. Books about Opus 40, various local products like honey and modern apothecary items and a line of tarot cards by the mesmerizing Hudson Valley art duo of Kahn & Selesnick are for sale.
Finally, if you don’t really want to head back to the city you can stay in the home that Harvey Fite and his wife Barbara built and lived in. It is now listed on AirBnB.
Opus 40 outdoor sculpture park is located is Saugerties NY, about a 90 minute drive from Midtown. It is also possible to take a bus to Woodstock and then a car service or cab to Opus 40.
2. Brunel Sculpture Garden
It’s hard to believe, but there is another unique outdoor sculpture park just fifteen minuets away from Opus 40. Brunel Sculpture Garden in Boiceville, NY is a surreal array of sculptural forms, gardens, and buildings. The park was designed and created by the New York City photography industrialist Emile Brunel who made his fortune with an early development of the one hour photo process.
By the mid 1920’s Brunel headed to the Catskills and purchased an old hotel and the surrounding sprawling property. The hotel, Le Chalet Indien became a celebrity destination for the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Max Ernst, Irving Berlin and a slew of actors, writers, artists and politicians. Brunel used the grounds as his sculpture studio, creating work featuring his personal interest in the Native American aesthetic. The eclectic collection of sculptures are scattered throughout the property among lovely botanical gardens. Today the gardens, and sculptures are open to the public by donation. While visiting, you can also check out the Ashokan Reservoir, the site of many towns that were drowned to create New York City’s water supply.
3. Nassau County Art Museum Sculpture Garden
No Car? No worries! Catch the LIRR to get to the Nassau County Art Museum. The Museum’s outdoor sculpture park collection features over 40 pieces by more than 30 sculptors. It located throughout 145 acres of fields, woods, ponds, and formal gardens of the William Cullen Bryant Preserve.
With sculpture created over the past 100 years, the collection is a unique opportunity to explore how sculptors respond to innovations in technology and materials over the last century. Walking maps encourage you to consider how the art and artists develop and use different styles during the evolving history of the collection. There is also a wonderful museum on the grounds. Check the website for LIRR directions to visit by public transportation.
4. Grounds For Sculpture, Hamilton NJ
The first thing you see when you click on “visit” on the Grounds For Sculpture website is Looking for the perfect daytrip?. Well actually, yes, we are! And if you are ok with an approximate 90 minute drive from Manhattan, you are in for a treat in the opposite direction from our other recommendations. Be prepared to see world class sculpture among a living library of native and exotic trees and flowers”.
Founded by sculptor and philanthropist Seward Johnson, Grounds For Sculpture opened in 1992 on the former NJ State Fairgrounds, With 300+ sculptures installed over the 42 acres, the founders’ vision to ““fill people everywhere with the emotional sustenance derived from the powerful and restorative connection between art and nature.”. He even created a bizarre collection of sculptures he called Beyond the Frame, which are lifesize 3D replicas of famous impressionistic paintings and other iconic scenes that viewers can get up close and personal with. Imagine grabbing the table next to the couple in Edouard Manet’s Chez Pere Lathuille.
Aside from the whimsey of Beyond the Frame, most of the artwork at Grounds for Sculpture is made by internationally recognized sculptors. With collaborators such as Gloria Vanderbilt, who worked with Johnson on the unique environment Forest of the Subconscious, to sculptures by world renown artists like Kiki Smith, who grew up in NJ, and George Segal, to the charming Rats Restaurant with award winning views, there is so much to see and do among the paths, reflecting pools and meadows that you may want to leave extra early to fit it all in.
After a year of being closed, the museum’s indoor spaces are opening with the exhibition Bruce Beasley: Sixty Year Retrospective, 1960-2020, which also includes outdoor sculptures. There is also the fine dining restaurant, Rat’s Inn, on the grounds, reservations suggested. Entry to Grounds For Sculpture is by advance timed ticket only and capacity is limited. Both Members and Public are required to reserve timed tickets online to visit. The Garden is open Thursday through Sunday 10AM to 6PM.
5. Art Omi, Ghent, NY
For a low-key experience that packs a big art punch visit the one hundred twenty acre contemporary sculpture and architecture park Art Omi in the Hudson Valley. The huge, meandering landscape makes for long, peaceful walks through grassy hills and woodland. Be sure to have the map on hand since there are no paved walkways between the monumental works of art and architecture. Along with the large-scale works in nature, there is a 1,500 square foot gallery. Not only does the park feature some of the best in modern sculpture, it includes innovative artistic architecture to ponder.
Art Omi is a super accommodating place. It is one of the few sculpture parks that allow dogs! Yes, thats right, well behaved and leashed pups are permitted to join you on the outside journey of sculpture discovery. Individuals with mobility impairments seeking to tour the park should call (518) 392-4747 to coordinate suitable arrangements. Two weeks notice of a visit is recommended. It is open in All weather, all year long. (And that includes free cross county groomed ski trails when weather permits)
Visitors to the Sculpture & Architecture Park must register for a day and time on weekends and select holidays. One registration is required per vehicle group. A suggested donation of $10 per person is encouraged for non-members, but all visitors are welcome regardless of donation.
6. J.P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden, Mill Neck, Long Island
If trying to figure out the conceptual theories of contemporary land sculpture is not your thing, or you just want to experience the serenity that embodies the ancient art of imperial garden design, J.P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is your ticket to paradise. An outing to J.P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is synonmous with decompression.. The garden is a work of art with sculptural forms and elements built into the intentional design of the paths, water features and tea house.
Wondering what a Japanese stroll garden is? A Japanese stroll garden is a large garden of connecting pathways that have stones intentionally placed to step slowly, often surrounding a pond and waterfall, designed to discover a new garden scene at each turn. The J.P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden is owned and managed by North Shore Land Alliance. The garden is open mid April to late October. Saturday and Sunday, 11:30am to 4:30pm.
7. Storm King Art Center, New Windsor, NY
Storm King Art Center is the tried and true when it comes to sculpture parks. The 500-acre grounds have been championing large-scale sculpture and site specific earth works including commissions since 1960. Works by the big names such as Andy Goldsworthy, Alexander Calder, and Louise Bourgeois have been on display along with pieces added or exchanged yearly.
One nifty feature at Storm King is a bike rental program. Bike Rentals are open for on-site rental only (no advance reservations). All bikes have a front basket and come with a printed map showing paths. Considering Storm King is one of the largest sculpture parks in the country, this could be a great choice to cover the expansive grounds.
The Storm King Museum Building (re-opening June 12) is an inside gallery on the grounds that hosts exhibitions of smaller works and supporting materials. Storm King is open Wednesday – Monday, 10AM – 5:30PM. Advance tickets are required for all visitors, including members.