Frieze New York just cancelled its 2020 fair, and, to be fair, it does seem highly unlikely that the world will have righted itself by May 7th. Yet other events have moved to online versions, as did Art Basel Hong Kong. Still, for many of us, it just ain’t the same. So, how then to see art first hand and stay safe?

With spring upon us, I vote that we all head off to our nearest sculpture gardens. Consider Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina- at 9,100 acres, I calculate that it could accommodate at least 11 million art lovers, each six feet away from the next. That just about covers every person who visits the Louvre in a year.

Institutions across America offer up their sculpture gardens for contemplation, meditation, edification,… and lunch. According to the American Alliance of Museums database, there are more than 900 such spaces in the United States. As those are only the member AAM member institutions, there may actually be thousands scattered here and there.

For centuries, monumental sculpture was the preserve of city dwellers. Rome, Paris, London, et al. all had massive bronzes and marbles erected at major intersections. Over time, though, experiencing them became a less salubrious affair. Trafalgar Square in 1843, when Nelson’s Column was installed, was a tad quieter than it is today. Understandably, some developed a yearning for other environments in which to contemplate great, and really large, art.

In the 70’s and 80’s, developers and corporations took to depositing monumental sculptures outside their buildings. Not all were prized, à la Tom Wolfe’s memorable reference to “turds in the plaza”. Yet, many important sculptors did supersize their iconic creations for such purposes. Robert Indiana’s LOVE could be bought as small as ¾” high, or as large as 12’. 

Still, though, the typical urban tower or corporate plaza is not all that less intimidating a venue than a major intersection. As well, it is hard to shake the feeling that the sculpture is there to impress upon you the power of its owner. In that regard, it is not all that different from the inferiority-complex inducing 20 foot tall 19th C. bronzes of conquering kings. 

At a time like this, I would take Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, NY over One Chase Manhattan Plaza or Union Square across from my office. 

Sculpture gardens offer such relaxing experiences.  (In fairness to the moment at hand, Union Square is pretty empty right now.) The works are not so much intended to intimidate as inspire awe. Even their context can make them seem less threatening- a 20’ sculpture does not seem out of scale in a 500 acre park. 

Still, with no politicians, corporations, or kings involved, someone has to pay for it all, and, as an appraiser, I have to wonder how much such behemoths cost.

Well, if you want to commission a piece from scratch, you had better have the wallet of a Zuckerberg. If you have to ask, it’s too much. For everyone else, such pieces could and should be sourced on the secondary market. One of the fixtures in the outdoor sculpture scene is George Rickey. The following 18’ high piece could have been purchased at auction for approximately $100,000. 

Not exactly cheap, but any visiting art aficionado would be mighty impressed to see a Rickey in the garden. Others can be had for far, far less, since at any one instant, the number of collectors seeking gargantuan art is severely limited. The following 10-foot tall piece sold for only $650. (In fairness, the buyer did have to go pick it up on-site.)

Anyway, the choice is yours. Go out and wander around your closest public sculpture garden, or, start one of your own. Either way, you’ll be safe and supporting the arts in their time of need.

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