Spring has finally sprung in Brooklyn. Telltale signs? The magnolia trees are bursting, the tulips are in bloom, and all over the city, people are plotting their overdue vacations and trips to major cultural events or big-ticket museum shows—a preview of the “Hot Vax Summer” to come, no doubt.
But until en masse inoculation against Covid-19 is officially a thing, a visit to an outdoor sculpture garden is your safest bet for enjoying the arts. Not just that, but meandering around manicured grounds marveling at a site-specific installation is the perfect way to spend an afternoon catching up with friends you haven’t seen in awhile (like a year). And right now, there are four spaces in particular that deserve your attention. Drumroll please…
Before standing in line for everything became the norm, a chance to take in a Yayoi Kusama exhibit was one of the few things for which New Yorkers were willing to queue up. This season you’ll get another chance to see her conceptual artworks in real life, this time in the open air at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. It’s safe to expect large-scale sculptures covered in plenty of polka dots, wild florals, infinity rooms, and an overwhelming feeling of optimism, which the city could use more of right now, to be honest. Residents of New York take note: NYBG offers free tickets on Wednesdays—I already signed up for a date in June (yep, they’re booked that far out). Kusama: Cosmic Nature is on view through Oct. 31, 2021.
NYBG, 2900 Southern Boulevard, Bronx, NY; $15 (garden only) or $35 (garden and gallery)
In terms of ease of transportation, you can’t beat Socrates Sculpture Garden in Long Island City. The outdoor space is accessible via subway, car, ferry, or bike, depending on your commuting comfort level. Best of all, the five-acre garden feels intimate compared to similar spaces in the city, and yet crowds have never been an issue the times I’ve gone. The current show, Monuments Now, a reflection on the role these commemorative structures play in our society, runs through May 9. Then, Planeta Abuelx, a solo exhibit of new work by Guadalupe Maravilla, opens on May 15. For it, Maravilla reimagines “Mother Earth” as an intergenerational, gender neutral “Grandparents Planet” in an effort to pay homage to an elderly population disproportionately vulnerable to Covid-19.
Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, Queens; free
On a beautiful spring day, the 500-acre grounds of Storm King Art Center, with its over 100 works of art, is a dream come true, a perfect place to picnic, and an essential day trip for anyone in the city. Advanced tickets are required right now, so plan accordingly, but you’ll want to make the trek for the U.S. debut of Rashid Johnson: The Crisis, on view through Nov. 8, 2021. Johnson took the title for this work from Harold Cruse’s influential Civil Rights-era book, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, but says it’s a reflection of the current social justice movement too. In addition, performances of Johnson’s ballet, The Hikers, about the journey of two Black hikers who encounter one another in the wild, will run in conjunction with the installation to activate the sculpture and turn the fields surrounding it into a living stage.
Storm King Art Center, 1 Museum Rd, New Windsor, NY; ticket prices vary
Looking to go a little further afield for a day trip? Grounds For Sculpture in New Jersey is about a two-hour car or train ride from New York City, but it’s well worth the journey and potential toll fees, trust. Billing itself as a contemporary sculpture garden, there is a charmingly mismatched feel to the artwork sprinkled across its lawns. The visionary founder Seward Johnson’s eclectic taste leans toward the surreal, like with a ginormous version of Grant Wood’s painting American Gothic or a downright hokey recreation of Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famous snap, V-J Day in Times Square. It’s a fun place to wander around, take photos, and remind yourself not to take things (including art) too seriously.
Grounds For Sculpture, 80 Sculptors Way, Hamilton, NJ; $18