The Most Intriguing Public Sculptures From Across The World
Sculpture is one of the earliest forms of human expression. Since humans have learned to shape objects into something else, sculptures have become a staple in society from the streets of ancient Rome to the streets of our modern cities. Today, the standard seems to be ‘the weirder the sculpture, the better.’ These are some of the most bizarre sculptures that can be found around the world.
Land Swimmer, United Kingdom
Located on the south bank of the Thames between the Tower of London and City Hall, you will find a 46-foot-long and10-foot-high statue of a man that appears to be swimming in the grass.
Oddly, the structure is built to promote tattoos, with the swimmer sporting a large tattoo on its back to advertise London Ink, a show on the Discovery Channel. The statue is made out of reinforced polystyrene and is hand-painted.
Ballerina Man, United States
Made by Jonathan Borofsky, this work nicknamed Clownerina was initially constructed in 1988 as a gallery piece for a local art museum. This strange creation was later unveiled in Venice Beach in 1989, standing on a large crate above the entrance to a CVS pharmacy.
Initially, a motor would allow the right leg to do a slow kick, but this was turned off in 1990, as the tenants of the building complained that it made too much noise.
The Silent Evolution, Mexico
A part of the National Marine Park, The Silent Evolution is a work by British artist Jason de Caires Taylor. It is an underwater sculpture made of 400 individual statues that are casts of local Mexican people to represent the different facets of society.
It is made from cement that has a neutral PH and is ten times stronger than regular cement. Not only will the piece be available for viewing by snorkelers, but it will also help to create a coral reef ecosystem.
Walking To The Sky, United States
Walking to the Sky is a public sculpture at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas, by artist Jonathan Borofsky. The sculpture features a small girl, a businesswoman, a man, and others, walking up a 100-foot-tall stainless steel pole.
Borofsky says that the work was inspired by a story his father used to tell him about a friendly giant living in the sky. Borofsky describes his work as “a celebration of the human potential for discovering who we are and where we need to go.”
Shuttlecocks, United States
Installed in 1994, these giant shuttlecocks can be found on the expansive lawns of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art museum in Kansas City. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, a married couple, made the sculptures out of aluminum and fiberglass-reinforced plastic, taking inspiration from Native American headdresses and the surrounding grassy landscape.
Although some members of the public thought they were fun and enjoyed them, others considered them to be a waste of money and “not art.”
The Bather, Germany
Die Badende, or The Bather, is a massive two-ton styrofoam and steel sculpture of a woman bathing in the water. It was placed in Hamburg’s Binnenalster Lake in 2017.
Created by artist Oliver Voss, the statue was 13 feet high and 67 feet long and remained in the lake for ten days. The sculpture was an advertisement for the British beauty products company Soap & Glory with the goal to promote the “art” of bathing.
Traffic Light Tree, United Kingdom
Created by French sculptor Pierre Vivant, Traffic Light Tree consists of 75 sets of lights, with each controlled by a computer.
The artist’s own description: “The Sculpture imitates the natural landscape of the adjacent London Plane Trees, while the changing pattern of the lights reveals and reflects the never-ending rhythm of the surrounding domestic, financial and commercial activities.” The piece was installed in 1998 on the site of a plane tree that died due to pollution.
Charles Joseph La Trobe, Australia
Dedicated in 2004, Charles Joseph La Trobe is a statue by Charles Robb that honors Charles La Trobe, the first Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria. During his time in office between 1839 and 1854, he was instrumental in establishing the Royal Botanic Gardens, State Library, Museum of Victoria, Nationa Gallery of Victoria, and the University of Melbourne.
Charles Robb made the decision to install the statue upside down in reference to the notion that universities should turn ideas on their head.
Hand Of The Desert, Chile
On the side of the Panamerican Highway, the Mano del Desierto, or Hand of the Desert, is a large-scale hand rising out of the desert in the Atacama Desert in Chile.
Located more than 3,500 feet above sea level, it was made by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal and is intended to symbolize the vulnerability and helplessness of humans. The work is 36 feet tall and was established on March 28, 1992, with funding from Corporación Pro Antofagasta.
Untitled 1986, United Kingdom
The Headington Shark, officially named Untitled 1986, is a sculpture that shows a shark diving head-first into a house at 2 New High Street, Headington, Oxford, England.
The work was commissioned by the owner of the house, Bill Heine, a local radio producer. The piece first made its appearance on August 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on Nagasaki. It was designed by John Buckley and constructed by Anton Castiau, a local carpenter.
The Public Purse, Australia
Back in 1994, the city of Melbourne, Australia, was taking submissions for new and unique street art, with The Public Purse presented by Simon Perry being selected. The work was commissioned by the city council’s Percent for Art Program to fund more public art for the development of the city.
According to Perry, his red-granite sculpture “signifies an interaction between the city and citizens, the public and the private.” What makes the work particularly interesting is that it can be placed anywhere in the retail district where it is located without looking out of place.
Crocodile And Capitalist, United States
At the Brooklyn Polytechnic University building entrance in New York City is The Crocodile and the Capitalist. This is a work that presents a message regarding honesty and greed. The statue is based on an old city legend that alligators live in the sewage system of New York, which came about after Robert Daily’s 1950’s novel, World Under the City.
As it turns out, it isn’t all urban legend, as some of these creatures are indeed found to have been living under the streets of New York.
Monument To The Unknown Beaurorat, Iceland
In the city of Reykjavik, Iceland, is a statue that commemorates anonymous city officials. It looks like the everyday person as they are on their way to work but are faceless, as there is a giant block of rock where the head and torso should be.
The figure also appears to be walking in the direction of city hall. It is constructed out of volcanic basalt and was sculpted by artist Magnús Tómasson in 1994.
The Nelson Mandela Memorial, South Africa
The Nelson Mandela Memorial was constructed for the Apartheid Museum in honor of the 50th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s arrest on August 6, 1962. The memorial is made up of fifty 30-foot-tall plates that were cut with a laser and embedded into the ground.
Up close, the work of art may not look like anything except for a series of metal pieces sticking out of the ground. However, if viewed from a distance, they create Nelson Mandela’s likeness.
The Man Hanging Out, Czech Republicc
Installed in 1996 by Czech sculptor David Černý, The Man Hanging Out is a sculpture of Sigmund Freud that looks like a real person dangling high above the streets from a distance.
Although the piece is considered controversial to some, it has been featured in other cities, including Grand Rapids, London, and Michigan. The work is said to be a statement about intellectualism in the 20th century and artist David Černý’s uncertainty of it.
Force Of Nature, Series
Created by Lorenzo Quinn, the Force of Nature is a series of sculptures that were inspired by the destruction from hurricanes in Thailand, the United States, and other parts of the world. Made from bronze, aluminum, and stainless steel, they show a picture of mother nature as she’s hurling the planet in circles.
Quinn explained the series, stating, “After having seen the ravaged coast of Thailand and the Hurricane that affected the Southern States, I decided to create a sculpture dedicated to Mother Nature.”
Statue of Franz Kafka, Czech Republic
The Statue of Franz Kafka was created by artist Jaroslav Róna. It was installed on Vězeňská street in the Jewish Quarter of Prague in December 2003. Located near the Spanish Synagogue, it shows an image of author Franz Kafka riding on the shoulders of a headless man in a suit.
The sculpture is said to be a reference to Kafka’s 1912 story “Depiction of a Struggle,” in which the main character climbs on the shoulders of a traveler to see the world from their eyes.
Penshaw Monument, United Kingdom
Although this may look like an ancient Greek temple, it was constructed in the mid-19th century and is only half the size of the real Temple of Hephaestus in Athens.
It was built in memory of John Lambton, the first Earl of Durham and the first Governor of Canada, who wrote the no-famous Report on the Affairs of British North America. The landmark is on top of Penshaw Hill that overlooks the city of Sunderland, England.
Fremont Troll, United States
Also referred to as Troll Under the Bridge, this public sculpture is located in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. The work was created by local artists Steve Badanes, Will Marti, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead, with the idea of the troll under a bridge coming from Norwegian folklore.
The piece came about when the Fremont Arts Council held a competition to fill the space under the bridge, which was “becoming a dumping ground and haven for [narcotics] dealers.”
Giant Durian, Cambodia
Located in the front of the Davao International Airport is a statue of giant durian fruit. The work was done by the famous artist Kublai Milan. It features a massive image of the spiky fruit and three pairs of humans that symbolize the people of the Davao, Moros, and Christian settlers.
So, the piece actually has a much deeper meaning than just depicting the notoriously smelly fruit that people can admire coming to and from the airport.
Free Stamp, United States
In the middle of downtown Cleveland, Ohio, you can find the world’s largest rubber stamp, also known as the Free Stamp. Commissioned by Standard Oil of Ohio, now BP, it was designed by Claes Oldenburg and his wife, Coosje van Bruggen.
Although the stamp was initially supposed to stand upright, Oldenburg and his wife wanted the “Free” to be visible to represent the emancipation of slaves after the American Civil War. BP later donated the sculpture to the city in 1991.
Unconditional Surrender, United States
Unconditional Surrender is a massive bronze statue located in San Diego that is a recreation of the Life magazine picture of a sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square after the end of World War II was announced.
The statue was done by artist Seward Johnson and is 25 feet tall, made of bronze, and was installed in 2013. Originally, they were made of foam-urethane but were later switched. Today, it remains a tourist hotspot in San Diego’s harbor.
Bruce Lee Peace Monument, Bosnia and Herzegovina
In Zrinjski Park, Bosnia and Herzegovina, there is a seemingly random statue of Bruce Lee, although it isn’t just an ordinary statue of the movie star. During the Communist period in Yugoslavia, Hollywood films were banned, which sparked a black market for VHS tapes.
During that time, Bruce Lee became a hero among the public, with people worshipping his films. In the 90s, Bruce Lee was then selected to be the subject of a Peace Monument, passing over Gandhi and the Pope.
Carhenge, United States
Not quite as impressive as the ancient Stonehenge, Carhenge can be found in the middle of Nebraska, constructed out of grey spray-painted vintage cars. It was built by Jim Reinders and dedicated in June of 1987, during the summer solstice.
The work contains 39 cars arranged in a circle plus three cars that were buried underground with a sign that reads, “Here lie three bones of foreign cars. They served our purpose while Detroit slept. Now Detroit is awake, and America’s great!”
Device To Root Out Evil, Canada
Device to Root out Evil is a sculpture done by American artist Dennis Oppenheim. It was initially titled Church and Oppenheim intended to have it located on Church Street, where he lived in New York. However, the work was considered to be too controversial and was eventually installed in a public park in Vancouver, Canada, as part of the Vancouver Sculpture Biennale in 2005.
According to Oppenheim, “Turning something upside-down elicits a reversal of content and pointing a steeple into the ground directs it to hell as opposed to heaven.”
The Dream, United Kingdom
Located in Sutton, St. Helens, England, The Dream is a public art piece made by Jaume Plesna. Impressively, the sculpture cost more than $2.5 million and was funded through the Big Art Project.
While the statue may look like something’s wrong with it, like a compressed picture, that’s just how it’s supposed to look. Because of this, not everyone is happy with the way that it turned out or how much money it cost.
Mazinger Z, Spain
Found in Cabra del Camp, Spain, there is a sculpture known as Mazinger Z, a massive super robot that is in front of the now-forgotten suburban development of Tarragona known as Mas del Plata.
However, when funding ran out in the 1980s, construction on the suburban neighborhood was stopped, although this statue was erected in front of what once would have been the entrance to the community. The statue stands 40 feet tall and is a popular tourist spot for fans.
In the middle of the Leuven, Belgium, the work The Totem is a giant green bug that is impaled in the middle of a 75-foot needle. The piece was done by artist Jan Fabre, the creator of several other works of art throughout Belgium.
The Totem was established in 2004 that was set in place to honor the 575 years of the University of KU Leuven. However, people today still wonder what the significance of the bug is.