We all know Europe offers some of the best opportunities to see great art—from the Louvre in Paris to the Prado in Madrid to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. But as spring turns into summer, now is the time to head outside the museum walls—and away from the tourist crowds—and explore the relationship between art and the natural environment. These five sculpture parks are just the ticket.
It’s one of the unlikeliest places you’d expect to see top contemporary sculpture: on a sheep farm in a remote archipelago in western Sweden. Pilane Skulptur—about an hour’s drive from Gothenburg, on Tjorn Island—features site-specific works by prominent international artists such as Tony Cragg, Zhang Huan, Alice Aycock, and Claes Hake. The park is open from May to August, and the sculptures change each season, so every visit is a different experience. What doesn’t change? The dramatic setting: 20 acres of rolling hills punctuated by grazing sheep and piles of stones that are ancient burial markers dating back to the Iron Age. Among the noteworthy pieces for 2016 is Spanish sculptor Jaume Plensa’s “Anna,” a 46-foot-tall white marble head perched atop Pilane’s highest ridge with views of the sea below.
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At the Kroller-Muller Museum in the Netherlands, you can get your culture fix while also getting a workout. Nestled in the middle of Hoge Veluwe National Park, an hour’s drive from Amsterdam, the museum boasts a 60-acre sculpture garden—one of Europe’s largest—and the best way to reach it is by bike. Hop on one of the free two-wheelers at the entrance to the park (which itself covers 21 square miles) and pedal through the lovely natural setting, keeping an eye out for wild deer and boar. Among the collection of 160 modern and contemporary sculptures are pieces by Henry Moore, Claes Oldenburg, Barbara Hepworth, and Tom Claassen, plus a massive white concrete “garden within a garden” installation by Jean Dubuffet.
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Night owls and early birds alike will appreciate Ekebergparken; located on the outskirts of Oslo, it’s the only sculpture park open 24/7, 365 days a year (bonus: it’s also free). The three-year-old park—financed entirely by Norwegian businessman Christian Ringnes to the tune of $70 million—may be young, but it already has an impressive (and still growing) collection. Among the 30-odd works scattered across 25 acres, most are from contemporary artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Damien Hirst, Tony Oursler, and Jenny Holtzer; classical sculptors Rodin, Renoir, and Maillol are also represented. The hilltop setting affords spectacular views of the capital, the Oslofjord and islands beyond. And don’t miss The Munch Spot, an overlook that the Norwegian artist used as a backdrop for his iconic painting “The Scream.”
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The masters of modern art meet the Mediterranean at the Maeght Foundation, where you’ll find hundreds of outdoor sculptures from the likes of Henry Moore, Alexander Calder, Jean Arp, and Alberto Giacometti just 15 miles from the French Riviera. The private collection, established in 1964, was a true collaboration; many of the artists worked with the Maeght family and the architect, Josep Lluis Sert, to create site-specific works for the museum building and grounds. Among the most famous is Jean Miro’s labyrinth, an in situ work featuring 250 mythological creations—crafted of marble, concrete and metal—set among stone-lined terraces. The sculpture garden also hosts temporary exhibitions; a Christo and Jeanne-Claude installation will premiere this summer featuring a mastaba (Egyptian tomb) of oil barrels.
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CHATEAU LA COSTE
The art of fine French wine and great contemporary sculpture seamlessly blend at Chateau La Coste, in the Luberon region, just outside Aix-en-Provence. In 2004, the winery invited artists and architects to create site-specific works across its 310-acre vineyard-dotted property. The result is a magnificent art and architecture walk that winds through the hilly, lush landscape, where you can spot Tom Shannon’s shiny stainless-steel sculpture “Drop”; one of Louise Bourgeois’s iconic spiders (this one emerging from a pool); three giant sheets of angular metal that form Richard Serra’s “Aix”; and atop a precipitous walkway, Tracey Amin’s “Cat Inside a Barrel.” Also on the grounds is a music-inspired pavilion from Frank Gehry and several structures from Japanese architect Tadeo Ando, including a modern glass frame he constructed around an ancient chapel. From now through September, a temporary show of new and recent sculpture from the avant-garde artist Lee Ufan will be on view.
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