The streets of New York City might as well be art galleries themselves -- public art is everywhere if you know where to find it.
Here are ten locations where you can find iconic works of public art during your next trip into New York:
Socrates Sculpture Park
The name Socrates Sculpture Park honors the Greek philosopher Socrates, in addition to honoring the area’s strong Greek community. In 1985, sculptor Mark di Suvero decided to transform this space into the largest outdoor sculpture park in New York City. Wander around and explore the works of art scattered around the park, and be sure to check out the stone fence around the park, which was partially salvaged from old grave markers.
Here are some exhibitions currently on view.
When picturing Rockefeller Center, the first thing that might come to mind is the Rockefeller Christmas tree or the sculpture of Atlas across from St. Patrick’s Cathedral. While these are quintessential Rockefeller Center icons, there’s so much more art hiding in plain sight in this area of Midtown.
Rockefeller Center has an abundance of art from mosaics to sculptures to bronze reliefs scattered around its campus. For example, the glittering mosaic behind The Tonight Show awning is titled “Intelligence Awakening Mankind” by Barry Faulkner, and it’s made up of more than one million tiles.
Walking towards the fabulous Radio City Music Hall, you’ll find three circular roundels on the side of the hall, symbolizing dance, drama, and song. This is the work of Hildreth Meiere, a prolific artist in the 1930s. Fun fact, her work is the only permanent art installation by a woman on Rockefeller Center’s exterior.
Around the Center, you’ll find several other works of art such as Isamu Noguchi’s “News” and José Maria Sert’s “Time”.
Rockefeller Center also partners with the Art Production Fund to present Art in Focus, a series of public art pop-ups throughout Rockefeller Center. Art in Focus features a variety of local artists such as Hiba Schahbaz, Sanford Biggers, Hilary Pecis, and Maurice Harris throughout the year. Check to see whose work will be on view during your trip.
If you’re interested in going for a walk and discovering more artistic masterpieces in addition to the few mentioned above, check out the free audio walking tour we made in collaboration with Rockefeller Center.
Julia de Burgos Mosaic
At East 106 Street between Lexington and Third Avenues, you’ll find a mosaic depicting in multicolored ceramics the face of renowned progressive poet, Julia de Burgos. It was conceptualized by community activists Marina Ortiz and Debrah Quiñones and was eventually created by local artist Manny Vega in 2006.
At age 25, just a year after De Burgos self-published her first collection of poems, she left for New York City to pursue a career in journalism. She settled in East Harlem, where she was a vocal feminist advocate and an activist for Puerto Rican independence.
Graffiti Hall of Fame
The Jackie Robinson Educational Complex doesn’t have your average playground. Wrapping around the whole yard is a magnificently painted wall. Every square inch is covered with gorgeous, vibrant works of graffiti art. The Hall of Fame is mostly enjoyed by the schoolkids who play in the park, as it’s not often open to the public. But a single outside wall along Park Avenue displays a glimpse of the artistry within.
In the 1980s, the beloved space was dubbed the Graffiti Hall of Fame by a community activist, Ray Rodriguez. Rodriguez, known as “Sting Ray” to his friends, wanted to preserve and protect what had become a de facto center for local artists. Establishing the Hall of Fame was also an opportunity to honor the vibrant street art of the neighborhood, where murals such as The Spirit of East Harlem and Keith Haring’s Crack is Wack are located.
Welling Court Mural Project
This public art project stretches along 700 feet of Astoria’s Welling Court neighborhood, from 30th Avenue to Vernon Boulevard. In 2009, the area’s palisades, blighted walls, and vacant lots presented a perfect blank canvas for a local named Jonathan Ellis. He approached an organization called Ad Hoc Art that sees art as a vehicle for social change, and by spring of 2010, local street artists came together to create 40 murals here.
Since then, 150 artists have contributed to the Welling Court Mural Project, an installation that shoots out in multiple directions. As the mural project has evolved, Welling Court has attracted bigger names to adorn these walls. The roster now includes Lady Pink, Tristan Easton, and Queen Andrea.
324 Grand Street
Walk by 324 Grand Street, and you’ll find gold calligraphy adorning the building’s facade. The mural’s creator, who calls himself Cryptik, is an enigmatic Los Angeles-based graffiti artist. Cryptik has followed in the footsteps of the notoriously secretive Banksy as part of a rich tradition of guerilla street art.
His creative vision imbues public art with the power to create awareness and understanding in the beholder. Though he never shows his full face in public, Cryptik is open about the meaning behind his large-scale works. The mural at 324 Grand combines cholo writing, derived from graffiti culture, with Eastern philosophical mantras.
Sugarcane Cafe Mural
From the corner near 240 Columbus Ave, it’s easy to soak in the beauty of the tree-lined streets and the quaintness of local bars and taverns around. But the wall of the Oxbow Tavern is especially eye-catching. Two oxen strain to pull a loaded cart, sugarcane rising lush behind them. Around the corner, a shirtless man gazes toward the horizon, leaning on a piece of stripped cane as a staff. The figures seem almost ready to step off the wall and haul their harvest down Columbus.
This bas-relief mural on the tavern wall was commissioned in 1971 by Victor Del Corral, the owner of what was Victor’s Cafe at the time. Del Corral wanted to evoke his own origins and honor how far he had come, from childhood on a Cuban farm to owner of a popular Cuban restaurant. The artist, Arturo Martin Garcia, was also Cuban-born, and had studied sculpture at one of the top fine arts schools in Havana. The man in the mural was modeled after his lover.
Walk around DUMBO and you’ll come across a public art campaign, DUMBO Walls, which was started in 2012, leaning into the neighborhood’s reputation as a haven for artists. It was led by the DUMBO Improvement District and by Two Trees Management -- the development company, owned by David Walentas, that kicked off DUMBO’s rapid transformation from post-industrial artist colony to super-expensive tech hub.