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The Best 9 Cities to See Cool Public Art

[In many cities, the most famous and interesting art is locked up in museums — but we’ve rounded up nine destinations where you’ll see striking, beautiful or thought-provoking works of art right in the streets. Wander through one of these cities and you might run into a Chagall mosaic, a mural painted by the local community or a nifty contemporary installation that you can hear, not just see.

Read on to feast your eyes on some of the best public art around the world.

1. Chicago, U.S.A.

Well known for spectacular skyscrapers, the Windy City also stands head and shoulders above other cities when it comes to public art. Stroll around the downtown Loop area and you’ll see dozens of sculptures and other works, including the Chicago Picasso — a 50-foot Cubist sculpture that was once considered an eyesore but is now a beloved city landmark where children climb and play. Across the street is another large sculpture by Joan Miro, and just a few blocks away is a magnificent, vibrantly colored mosaic by Marc Chagall called “The Four Seasons.” But Chicago’s most popular public art installation is Cloud Gate (also known as “the Bean”), whose reflective stainless steel curves have starred in many a tourist photograph.

2. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Travelers who love the energy and unexpectedness of street art will want to make a beeline for Rio de Janeiro. Brazil legalized street art and graffiti in 2009 (as long as it’s done with the building owners’ permission), but this type of creativity has been flourishing in Rio for many years. Some of the best examples can be found near the Jardim Botanico (Botanic Garden), where a wall of ever-changing street art stretches about a half-mile. A significant portion of the city’s street art can be found in the favelas, or slums; check out FavelaPainting.com to see how one public art organization is working with local communities to beautify these economically depressed neighborhoods.

3. Oslo, Norway

Crouching, playing, pondering, embracing, even throwing a tantrum, the hundreds of bronze figures in Oslo’s Vigeland Park seem to capture every facet of human life. The literal high point of Gustav Vigeland’s 80-acre sculpture garden, completed in the 1940s, is the Monolith, a tower made up of intertwined bodies stretching nearly 50 feet toward the sky. En route from the main gate to the Monolith, keep your eye out for the Angry Boy, one of the park’s most famous denizens (and the thrower of the aforementioned tantrum). Outside of Vigeland Park, a stroll through downtown Oslo rewards art lovers with a number of attractive fountains and sculptures.

4. Tel Aviv, Israel

Sunny Tel Aviv is home to a variety of public art, from large-scale memorials to small sculptures. Perhaps the most famous is Yigal Tumarkin’s “Holocaust and Revival,” a triangular iron and glass memorial on Rabin Square. Art lovers should also visit Tel Aviv University, where the sculpture garden offers a serene place to wander and ponder such works as “Spiral” by Dov Feigin and “Solar Stairs: Homage to Kepler” by Gio Pomodoro. For a comprehensive list of public art in Tel Aviv, visit IsraelPublicArt.com.

Philadelphia, U.S.A.

Yes, you’ll want to make the requisite pilgrimage to Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture and pose with Rocky on the art museum steps. But our favorite outdoor art in Philadelphia is its collection of murals. Founded in 1984, the Mural Arts Program — the largest public art program in the U.S. — has worked with local artists and communities to create more than 3,000 works of art around Philadelphia, offering splashes of color beside major roadways and tucked around unexpected corners. Visit MuralArts.org to book a small-group trolley or walking tour of the organization’s most impressive works.

Barcelona, Spain

Think of Barcelona and one man comes to mind: Antoni Gaudi, the architect whose brilliant colors and sinuous curves have made several of the city’s buildings justifiably famous. Head to Parc Guell to see his colorful tilework and fountains (parts of the park have free admission; a small charge applies for the rest). Don’t miss the mosaic dragon near the entrance. Another public work to keep an eye out for: Frank Gehry’s Peix (Fish), a massive creation of steel, glass and stone that adds a golden gleam to Barcelona’s Port Olimpic (it was designed for the 1992 Olympic Games).

Melbourne, Australia

Thanks in part to a city-funded Public Art Program that’s been in place since the early 2000s, visitors to Melbourne will find quirky and interesting works of art throughout the city — like a giant purse that you can sit on (located at Bourke Street Mall) or “Blowhole,” a sculpture in Docklands Park with colorful moving parts that spin in the wind. But our favorite public art in Melbourne is an installation that you can hear as well as see. The Federation Bells is a collection of 39 brass bells, each with a different pitch, that play a variety of tunes three times a day. (Want to compose your own ditty for the bells? Visit FederationBells.com.au.)

Singapore

You’ll likely recognize a few of the artists who’ve contributed to Singapore’s rich collection of public art, including Salvador Dali (his “Homage to Newton” is at UOB Plaza One) and Henry Moore (stop by the headquarters of the Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation to check out “Large Reclining Figure”). Less known to international visitors but beloved by locals is the “Grandfather of Singapore Sculpture,” Ng Eng Teng, whose “Mother and Child” bronze sculpture is one of several pieces by the artist on display throughout the city. We also love the fanciful “First Generation” by Chong Fah Cheong, featuring five little boys jumping into the river, and Kumari Nahappan’s “Nutmeg & Mace.”

Mexico City, Mexico

Wander long enough through Mexico City and you’ll stumble upon colorful murals by dozens of artists, including some of Mexico‘s best known (such as Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco). Many are located inside public buildings with free admission, such as the National Palace and the Secretariat of Public Education, which have epic works by Rivera and others. Inside the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Market, which dates back to the 1930s, you’ll discover murals painted by Rivera’s students under the supervision of the master himself. Outdoors, keep an eye out for the Juan O’Gorman murals on the walls of the Central Library at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico). And don’t miss the Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros, with murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros both inside and out.

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