Giant hot air balloon whales and 15 other outdoor art exhibits to see around the world

Written by Jacqui Palumbo, CNNLeah Dolan, CNN

After Covid-19 shuttered museums and galleries across the globe, the art world is staging a cautious reopening — which includes a host of new pandemic-friendly, open-air exhibitions and installations.

These outdoor offerings include major, long-awaited shows by renowned artists, as well as public art by local talent.

Some were created in direct response to the events of 2020, such as a series of protest sculptures made from plywood once used to board up storefronts during America’s Black Lives Matter demonstrations. Others explore the deepening climate crisis and ask us to consider our relationship to the Earth, whether that’s forest installations in major cities or transcendent digital art set amid Japanese hot springs.

But while many of the 16 outdoor art experiences in our list address these serious issues, there is plenty of whimsy, too — from a kaleidoscopic take on a fairground to a pod of majestic floating “skywhales.”

“Kusama: Cosmic Nature”

Where: New York Botanical Gardens, New York City, USA
When: Now through October 31

The New York Botanical Garden has been filled with sculptures by Kusama, including this new "Dancing Pumpkin."

The New York Botanical Garden has been filled with sculptures by Kusama, including this new “Dancing Pumpkin.” Credit: Robert Benson Photography

Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s wildly popular “Infinity Mirror Rooms” — dark, glittering installations that reflect orbs of light over and over until an entire universe materializes — attract long lines wherever they appear. But those hoping to see Kusama’s work in less confined surroundings can instead grab tickets to the New York Botanical Gardens’ sprawling new exhibition, which had previously been postponed due to the pandemic.

Called “Cosmic Nature,” the show connects Kusama’s lifelong love of nature with her running themes of “obliteration, infinity and eternity,” according to organizers. Her signature pumpkins, polka dots and floral sculptures all feature, finding harmony within the greenhouses, inside of the garden’s fountains and throughout the grounds. And for those who don’t mind the wait, there’s a new “Infinity Mirror Room,” too.

“Y/Our Future is Now”

Where: Serralves, Porto, Portugal
When: July 31 to September 26

The curves of Olafur Eliasson's new sculptures trace the journey of a single point rotating around an axis.

The curves of Olafur Eliasson’s new sculptures trace the journey of a single point rotating around an axis. Credit: Filipe Braga

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s first exhibition in Portugal is hosted throughout the Serralves museum, as well as in the institution’s beautiful park grounds. Eliasson’s work often uses elements of nature — such as air and water — alongside light and color, in transportive works that reframe our relationship to nature.

His latest large-scale installations are suspended sketches, made three-dimensional through curved steel tubing. One of Louise Bourgeois’ famed steel spider sculptures is also on show in the museum grounds, as part of the concurrent exhibition “To Unravel a Torment.”

“Forest for Change”

Where: Somerset House, London, UK
When: Now through June 27

"Forest for Change"emphasizes the potential of collective action in tackling issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change.

“Forest for Change”emphasizes the potential of collective action in tackling issues such as poverty, inequality and climate change. Credit: Ed Reeve

As part of the London Design Biennale, the city’s Somerset House is playing host to a forest of 400 trees. Conceptualized by the Biennale’s artistic director, Es Devlin, “Forest for Change” breaks a centuries-old rule forbidding the planting of trees in the complex’s courtyard. At the forest’s center is an installation made from 17 mirrored pillars, which represent the United Nations’ 17 “Global Goals” for eradicating poverty, inequality and climate change by 2030.
“In literature, forests are often places of transformation: the forest of Arden in Shakespeare, the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm,” Devlin told CNN earlier this year. “The UN Global Goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behavior, and it is our hope that an interaction with the Goals in the forest will be transformative.”

“teamLab: A Forest Where Gods Live”

Where: Takeo Hot Springs, Kyushu, Japan
When: July 16 to November 7

The pond at the Mifuneyama Rakuen park, lit up by teamLab in 2015.

The pond at the Mifuneyama Rakuen park, lit up by teamLab in 2015. Credit: Kei Sugimoto

In July, Japanese art collective teamLab will return to the historic Mifuneyama Rakuen park to reinstall its immersive installation, “A Forest Where Gods Live,” for the sixth time. Using the forest as a canvas, teamLab projects light, color and moving forms onto rocks, caves and sacred trees that date back between 300 and 3,000 years, according to the exhibition website.

“Lost in nature, where the boundaries between man-made garden and forest are unclear, we are able to feel like we exist in a continuous, borderless relationship between nature and humans,” teamLab wrote in its exhibition note.

“Dale Chihuly: Glass in Bloom”

Where: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
When: Now through August 1

Dale Chihuly's glass culptures, "Moon" (1999) and "Setting Sun" (2020).

Dale Chihuly’s glass culptures, “Moon” (1999) and “Setting Sun” (2020). Credit: Nathaniel Wilson

American sculptor Dale Chihuly’s otherworldly glass works, which emphasize the fragile beauty of nature at often awe-inspiring scale, have been exhibited all over the world, as well as at their usual home in Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. This summer, the pioneering artist is putting on his first major garden exhibition in Asia, at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay. The show will feature his towering, tree-like forms, slender bamboo reeds and suspended floral installations in vibrant colors.

“Agua Dulce”

Where: The Bass, Miami, USA
When: Now through April 2022

The installation, which encompasses nearly 14,000 square feet, will continue growing to form a natural oasis.

The installation, which encompasses nearly 14,000 square feet, will continue growing to form a natural oasis. Credit: Zaire Kacz

Artist Abraham Cruzvillegas is known for his “autoconstrucción” sculptures and installations, which are inspired by the self-building architectural traditions of his childhood community in Mexico City, but his work also highlights the unpredictability of nature, using flora and soil as mediums. Now, outside Miami museum The Bass, he has brought together 1,000 native plants from 27 different species — many of which have been historically used for healing purposes — to form a wild oasis. The installation began last December, and it will be left to grow into a lush landscape over the course of a year and a half.

“Pavilion Tokyo 2021”

Where: Tokyo, Japan
When: July 1 to Sept 5

The cloud pavilion, designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, will appear at sites across Tokyo.

The cloud pavilion, designed by architect Sou Fujimoto, will appear at sites across Tokyo. Credit: The Tokyo Metropolitan Government

Running alongside the Summer Olympic Games, “Pavilion Tokyo 2021” will feature works by eight Japanese creative heavyweights: artists Yayoi Kusama and Makoto Aida, and architects Terunobu Fujimori, Kazuyo Sejima, Sou Fujimoto, Akihisa Hirata, Junya Ishigami and Teppei Fujiwara. The pavilions, which include a whimsical, cloud-like sculpture by Fujimoto and two towering Japanese castle designs by Aida, will all be within two miles of the city’s new National Stadium and form part of the larger Tokyo Tokyo Festival.

“Under a Loggia”

Where: Galería Hilario Galguera, Mexico City, Mexico
When: Now through July 23

"Under a Loggia" takes a fresh look at contemporary sculpture and photography.

“Under a Loggia” takes a fresh look at contemporary sculpture and photography. Credit: George Newall

This open-air show presents sculpture and photography by four New York-based artists at Galería Hilario Galguera’s modernist, light-drenched Sculpture Terrace. The works — which include Al Freeman’s soft, plush sculptures of cigarette packs, and Tony Matelli’s reimagined historical statues that have been broken and covered in lifelike fruit — explore humor and the uncanny, while drawing on art historical traditions.

“Ghost Forest”

Where: Madison Square Park, New York City, USA
When: Now through November 14

Maya Lin's graveyard of trees encourages passersby to consider Earth's dwindling forests.

Maya Lin’s graveyard of trees encourages passersby to consider Earth’s dwindling forests. Credit: Maya Lin Studio

Architect and artist Maya Lin has transformed Manhattan’s Madison Square Park into a “ghost forest” of 49 dead Atlantic white cedar trees, turning the small urban oasis into an eerie space that prompts visitors to meditate on the effects of climate change.

“In California, it’s forest fires. In the East Coast, it’s rising seas, saltwater inundation,” Lin told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last month. But if we make collective decisions to reform industry practices and restore our degrading landscapes, there is still hope, she said, adding: “Nature is resilient. If we give it a chance, it will come back.”

“Skywhales: Every Heart Sings”

When: Now through 2022
Where: Across Australia

The family of balloons are an homage to fatherhood.

The family of balloons are an homage to fatherhood. Credit: The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

Australian multimedia artist Patricia Piccinini will fly her two monumental whale hot air balloons around Australia throughout 2021 and 2022. The inflatable mammals will appear in the skies above Maitland and Cairns in August and September. They will then travel to Bordertown and Alice Springs in October and Melbourne in December, before stopping in Hamiliton and Ballarat next summer.

Named Skywhale and Skywhalepapa, the aerial sculptures celebrate fathers’ roles as caregivers by showing the whale papa holding multiple babies. The flights coincide with an indoor show at the National Gallery of Australia, which is showing studio drawings and 3D models of the two works.

“Back to Nature”

Where: Villa Borghese Gardens, Rome, Italy
When: Now through July 25

Leandro Erlich's floating window plays with space and perspective.

Leandro Erlich’s floating window plays with space and perspective. Credit: Sovrintendenza Capitolina ai Beni Culturali

One of Europe’s largest urban parks, Rome’s Villa Borghese, is showcasing contemporary artworks from nine artists that reflect on humans’ relationship with nature. Installations and sculptures are designed to be in dialogue with the landscape garden, and include Loris Cecchini’s smooth, steel branches, which sprout from the park’s cedar trees, and Leandro Erlich’s mid-air window that allows visitors to see the garden from a new perspective.

“Anton Smit Open Air Exhibition”

Where: Century City, Cape Town, South Africa
When: Now through 2022

Artist Anton Smit's work is a love letter to the human form.

Artist Anton Smit’s work is a love letter to the human form. Credit: Michel Dei-Cont

The Cape Town precinct, Century City, is hosting a 30-piece collection by South African sculptor Anton Smit. Fascinated by the human form and movement, Smit captures rippling muscles in solid bronze, casting flickers of emotional expression onto giant faces more than 2,300 meters (7,546 feet) tall.

Whether fully formed figures, severed heads or hollowed-out masks, Smit’s pieces are imbued with an uncanny illusion of life and motion. Visitors can walk or cycle around the open-air exhibition.

“The Plywood Protection Project”

Where: Across New York City, USA
When: Now through November 1

The protests of 2020 represented in sculpture.

The protests of 2020 represented in sculpture. Credit: Brett Beyer

During the Black Lives Matter protests that swept the world in the summer of 2020, stores and restaurants boarded up their premises using plywood, creating new demand for the material. Nonprofit group Worthless Studios collected 200 of the boards before making an open call for artists to propose ways of repurposing them. Five of the entrants were given the resources to realize their visions, and their works on Black identity, social justice and civic engagement are now being exhibited around the city — one sculpture per borough.

“Dodge”

Where: Somerset House, London, UK
When: July 15 to August 22

The space will blend seamlessly from family fun into night-time revelery with DJ Sets and special "Dodge Lates" programming.

The space will blend seamlessly from family fun into night-time revelery with DJ Sets and special “Dodge Lates” programming. Credit: Yinka Ilori

Complete with the smell of freshly baked waffles, and musical vibrations that rattle through your chest, Yinka Ilori‘s new project promises to capture the feeling of summer in the city and squeeze it into the courtyard of London’s Somerset House. Known for his vibrant adult playgrounds, Ilori will also reimagine the traditional fairground — specifically the bumper cars. Sound artists will meanwhile attach a musical melody to each dodgem (as bumper cars are known in the UK), creating a kinetic symphony when they inevitably clash together.

“The Garden of Earthly Worries”

Where: Paleis Het Loo, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands
When: Now through September 26

Libeskind's title is a play on "The Garden of Earthly Delights," the famous painting by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch.

Libeskind’s title is a play on “The Garden of Earthly Delights,” the famous painting by Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch. Credit: Marnix Klooster

Despite the sculpture’s bright, cheerful colors, Daniel Libeskind‘s “The Garden of Earthly Worries” speaks to the impending climate crisis. Looming large over visitors’ heads are four curved fragments of a shattered planet, each standing around 3 meters (9.8 feet) high. Every shard represents a different chemical compound that degrades the environment.

Set in the center of the Paleis Het Loo’s ornate and expertly manicured Baroque gardens, the jagged shapes are a sculptural counterpoint that question humanity’s technological progress.

“Tony Cragg at Houghton Hall”

Where: Houghton Hall, Norfolk, UK
When: Now through September 26

Tony Cragg's "Runner" (2015) pictured in the grounds of Houghton Hall, Norfolk.

Tony Cragg’s “Runner” (2015) pictured in the grounds of Houghton Hall, Norfolk. Credit: Pete Huggins

The sprawling grounds of Houghton Hall, an English stately home dating back to the 18th century, are currently populated by the fluid, undulant sculptures of celebrated artist Tony Cragg. Cragg was awarded the prestigious Turner Prize in 1988, and represented Britain at the Venice Biennale the same year. His imposing, rippling forms joyfully contradict the building’s symmetrical Palladian architecture.

“In such a formal setting one has the impression that somehow something is going on that is a little untoward,” he said earlier this year, according to the outdoor exhibition’s organizers. “The sculpture almost looks as if it is misbehaving.”

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