Free for All: 10 Public Art Displays in the Big Apple

One of the under-appreciated fringe benefits of a meeting planner’s calling is the occasional opportunity to rub elbows with New York City’s mindboggling collection of great art.

While security at the Guggenheim, the Met, the Whitney and the Museum of Modern Art frown on you fondling the merchandise, New York’s unparalleled public art is equally engaging, totally free of charge, and available for selfies 24/7.

Looking for an offsite NYC adventure sure to please all ages? Here are 10 New York public art installations around Manhattan, from the Upper East Side to Wall Street, that will inspire and delight both new and repeat visitors.

  1. Alexander Calder Sidewalk, 1014-1018 Madison Ave. Utilizing black and white marble terrazzo and zinc strips, Calder created this dazzling geometric Upper East Side sidewalk in 1970 as a gift to his longtime art dealer.
  1. The Angel of the Waters, Bethesda Fountain, Central Park: You’ve seen this iconic Emma Stebbins bronze angel in scores of films and TV shows. Viewed in person, she seems to personify landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s bucolic vision.
  1. Orpheus and Apollo, lobby of Avery Fisher Hall: Suspended in the towering, narrow Grande Promenade lobby, Richard Lippold’s abstract metal sculptures suggest the movement of music, the art form handed down from Apollo to his son Orpheus.
  1. Lincoln Center: Has there ever been a structure that more perfectly embodied the artistic endeavors within than this Philip Johnson midcentury masterpiece?
  1. Saurien, 590 Madison Ave. This striking red Calder abstract, a familiar sight in TV news and sitcoms, is sometimes referred to as the Statue of Liberty’s party hat for its spiked points, which seem to ward off the sleek advances of the former IBM Building behind it.
  1. Wisdom with Light and Sound, 30 Rockefeller Plaza: Lee Lawrie’s commanding 1933 bas-relief features a painted and gilded limestone godlike figure ushering in the magical sound and light of broadcast radio and TV to “30 Rock.”
  1. Reclining Figure: Hand, Japanese Peace Bell Garden: One of several sensual Henry Moore bronzes on display throughout the city, this 1979 work deserves a hand for how wonderfully it plays off of the rectilinear buildings of the United Nations.
  1. The Wall, 599 Broadway: This 2007 restoration of Forrest Myers’ playful, longstanding visual gateway to SoHo consists of a grid of 42 violet channel irons that project perpendicularly from the building’s brick exterior.
  1. Charging Bull, north of Bowling Green: While no longer located directly in front of the Stock Exchange, Arturo Di Modica’s muscular 1989 bronze bull has come to symbolize Wall Street.
  1. Statue of Liberty, New York harbor southwest of The Battery: A gift of friendship from the citizens of France, New York’s iconic lady of the harbor, built by sculptor Frederic-August Bertholdi, architect Richard Morris Hunt and engineer Gustave Eiffel between 1875 and 1884, is just a ferry ride away.

As a keepsake of your daylong public art adventure, I’d recommend Jean Parker Phifer’s “Public Art New York” from Norton Books. This colorful chapbook features vignettes and photos by Francis Dzikowski of more than 200 other public artworks for your guests to explore in their spare time or next time.

Photographs copyright 2009 by Francis Dzikowski Photography Inc., used with permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Co., New York.

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald

Jay MacDonald is an award-winning journalist, author and blogger who incorporates humor and human interest into a broad range of topics. Follow him on Twitter @omnisaurus

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