The Top 20 Most Creative Public Sculptures in the World

Love them or loathe them, public sculptures are a key feature of most modern cities. Whether it’s to commemorate a historic event, add some aesthetic merit to a public square, or make an open space more appealing, successful public sculptures play a significant role in injecting a bit of character into their surroundings. Their importance means that getting them right is a daunting task for any artist involved in their creation.

The 20 bizarre sculptures from cities around the world listed below are all examples of when sculptors and artists, in the construction of their own works of public art, threw caution to the wind and by a master-stroke of either genius or luck got it spot on.

1. LES VOYAGEURS – MARSEILLE, FRANCE

modern sculpture in port of marseilles

Image by Jeanne Menj licensed under CC BY – 2.0

French artist Bruno Catalano created a series of eye-catching surreal sculptures which were dotted around the port of Marseille for the city’s European City of Culture 2013 celebrations. The work featured realistic bronze moulds human workers going about their everyday business with large chunks of their bodies missing. The technical skill of the works, some of which appear to stand upright with very little support, along with the ethereal eeriness led to much praise for Catalano, leading him to becoming one of the most praised modern sculpture artists of the decade.

2. MUSTANGS AT LAS COLINAS – TEXAS, USA

horse sculptures in texas the mustangs of las colinas

‘Mustangs at Las Colinas’ is a well-known sculpture in Texas, USA by bronze sculptor Robert Glen. Commemorating the wild mustangs that historically roamed the surrounding area, the sculptures evoke a fantastic sense of movement, particularly enhanced by the miniature fountains cleverly placed under the hooves of the mustangs in the water.

3. GRAN ELEFANT DRET – BARCELONA, SPAIN

elephant sculpture balancing on trunk in Barcelona

Image by bestiasonica licensed under CC BY – 3.0

Spanish artist Miquel Barceló’s ‘Gran Elephant Dret’ (Great Elephant Standing) seems to defy gravity as the five tonne solid bronze sculpture balances eight metres high on the thin point of the elephant’s trunk. The sculpture, erected in Barcelona in 2009, proved yet again that Barceló’s advanced craftmanship and imagination after a series of high profile works, including decorating the ceiling of the UN’s Palace of Nations building, place him in the list of one of the worlds most creative modern sculpture artists.

4. PRZEJŚCIE – WROCLAW, POLAND

sculpture of people rising out of ground in wroclaw poland

Image by solarisgirl licensed under CC BY – 2.0

‘Przejście’, meaning passage or transition in Polish, is a set of bronze sculptures on a well-known intersection in Wroclaw by renowned Polish artist Jerzy Kalina . It depicts two powerful scenes with a set of seven people bursting out of the ground through the paving slabs at one end of the street, and seven people sinking beneath the street at the other end. The sculptures were erected in 2005 to mark the 24th anniversary of martial law being introduced in Poland: a time when many citizens went missing.

5. TRANSCENDENCE – PORTLAND, USA

gold fish sculpture bursting through building

Image by Mike Krzeksac licensed under CC BY – 2.0

golden salmon sculpture bursting though building in portland oregon

Image by M O Stevens licensed under CC BY – 3.0

‘Transcendence’ is an eye-catching sculpture by Keith Jellum depicting a fish flying through bricks above a well-known seafood restaurant in Portland, Oregon. The sculpture is 11 feet long and is made of hand forged and welded bronze. Like many quirky sculptures on this list, Jellum’s work has become a much-loved symbol for the area.

6. PEOPLE OF THE RIVER – SINGAPORE

sculpture of 5 people jumping in river singapore

Image by Marc Rauw licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Dotted along the Singapore River are the ‘People of the River’ sculptures by local artist Chong Fah Cheong, each offering a freeze-frame of how life was in the past. The most iconic of these is the bronze entitled ‘First Generation’ depicting five boys jumping into the river. The bronze is so well planned with the gestures of the boys appearing like natural movement, rather than a technique used to anchor them to the ground.

7. SHOES ON THE DANUBE – BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

image of the wordl war two sculpture shoes on the danube

Image by Nikodem Nijaki licensed under CC BY – 3.0

Film director Can Togay and Hungarian sculptor Gyula Pauer created this work to commemorate the Hungarian Jews that were executed by the Arrow Cross fascist militia during World War II. The Jewish people of the area were ordered to remove their shoes and were shot at the edge of the water so their bodies would fall into the river. This powerful bronze sculpture represents the shoes that they left behind.

8. NON-VIOLENCE – NEW YORK, USA

photo of the knotted gun modern sculpture in new york

Image by Sari Dennise licensed under CC BY – 2.0

‘Non-Violence’ (popularly known as ‘The Knotted Gun’) is a world famous sculpture by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd created in the late 1980s after the shooting of Reuterswärd’s good friend John Lennon. The sculpture was donated to the UN in 1988 and has since become one of the most recognisable symbols for peace. Although the original gun in New York is the most famous, there are at least 16 other knotted gun sculptures scattered across the globe.

9. THE BLACK GHOST OF KLAIPĖDA – KLAIPĖDA, LITHUANIA

lithuania's black ghost sculpture

Image by Anders Rune Jensen licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Commemorating an ancient folk tale about a mysterious hooded figure who foretold the demise of the city’s stocks of grain in the 16th century, ‘The Black Ghost’ sculpture in Klaipeda, Lithuania’s oldest city, is most certainly one of the most terrifying public sculptures around. It was created by local artists Sergejus Plotnikovas and Svajūnas Jurkus in 2010 and has been giving children nightmares ever since.

10. CATTLE DRIVE – TEXAS, USA

cattle herd sculpture in pioneer plaza texas

Image by Dfwcre8tive licensed under CC BY – 3.0

Another for Texas representing its proud farming heritage, the group of sculptures known collectively as ‘Cattle Drive’ sits in Pioneer Plaza in Dallas, Texas, commissioned by real estate developer Trammel Crow to commemorate the large cattle drives that took place in the area in the 19th Century. However, many local artists have objected, claiming the piece is historically inaccurate. The work is still in progress and every now and then an additional cow is added to the herd.

11. MAMAN – LONDON, UK

giant modern sculpture of a spider at tate modern

Image by Sara Richards licensed under CC BY – 2.0

At over 30 feet high and 33 feet wide, Louise Bourgeois‘s giant spider sculpture ‘Maman’ is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Created using a mixture of stainless steel, bronze and marble, it’s most probably one of the heaviest too. The frightening sculpture, though owned by London’s Tate Modern museum, has been touring the world since 1999 and is currently standing in Stockholm, Sweden.

12. MAN AT WORK – BRATISLAVA, SLOVAKIA

bronze sculpture of a man at work in bratislava

Image by Guillaume Speurt licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Known locally as ‘Cumil’ meaning watcher, this quirky sculpture is one of many found around the city centre of Bratislava. It was created by local painter Viktor Hulik in 1997 after he was commissioned by a local magistrate to create some modern sculptures which would add some life to the reconstruction of the old city.

13. MAN HANGING OUT – PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

image of man hanging out sculpture in prague

Image by Chris Waits licensed under CC BY – 2.0

hanging out modern sculpture in prague

Image by blondzilla licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Created by the famously controversial Czech sculptor David Cerny, ‘Man Hanging Out’ humorously depicts Sigmund Freud dangling by one hand high above a city street. The sculpture is in Cerny’s signature provocative style and is among the works that have led him to be regarded by many as one of the best sculpture artists working in the world today.

14. THE KELPIES – FALKIRK, SCOTLAND

kelpies sculpture in scotland's central belt

Image by michel licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Standing at 30 metres high on the outskirts of Falkirk, Scotland ‘The Kelpies’ were designed by sculptor Andy Scott to commemorate the use of horses in agriculture and industry which helped to shape the landscape of the surrounding area. The sculptures each way over 300 tonnes and are made up of thousands of individually crafted pieces of stainless steel. The Kelpies have quickly become regarded as one of the finest large-scale modern sculptures in the world.

15. A DAY OUT – ADELAIDE, AUSTRALIA

image of pig sculpture in adelaide

image of pig sculpture in adelaide

Image by Amanda Slater licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Officially known as ‘A Day Out’, but locally referred to as ‘The Rundle Mall Pigs’, Marguerite Derricourt‘s life-size porcine creations have injected a large dose of life into their shopping centre home in Adelaide. Affectionately named Truffles, Horatio, Oliver, and Augusta, the four sculptures have become an icon of the area since they were put up in 1999 and are proof of how public sculptures have the ability to transform the atmosphere of an area for the better.

16. THE UNKNOWN OFFICIAL – REYKJAVIK, ICELAND

the unknown bureaucrat sculpture iceland

Image by itinerantlondoner licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Most countries have a statue commemorating the Unknown Soldier, but in true Icelandic bleak satirical style, the monument to ‘The Unknown Official’ stands commemorating the thankless, anonymous job of the bureaucrat. The sculpture was skilfully crafted in 1994 by local artist Magnús Tómasson.

17. HEADINGTON SHARK – OXFORD, UK

sculpture of fish tail in roof in oxfor england

Image by Robert Linsdell licensed under CC BY – 2.0

‘The Headington Shark’ (whose proper name is ‘Untitled, 1986’) protrudes bizarrely out of the roof of a house on the eccentric New High Street in Headington, Oxford. Designed by sculptor John Buckley, the shark sits on top of local radio presenter Bill Heine’s house and is said to be a stand against nuclear power – it was erected in 1986 on the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki. The local council planned to have the shark removed on safety grounds, but the public support for the structure led to it becoming an iconic feature of the area for over a decade.

18. CLOUD GATE – CHICAGO, USA

anish kapoors bean sculpture in chicago

Image by David C Jones licensed under CC BY – 2.0

This giant, shiny structure, known locally as ‘The Bean’, for obvious reasons, was constructed by Indian-born British artist and architect Anish Kapoor. Inspired by liquid mercury, the futuristic sculpture is made up of 168 highly polished pieces of stainless steel welded together and provides residents and tourists with plenty of photo opportunities. Despite many claiming that the modern sculpture could not feasibly be constructed and maintained, ‘Cloud Gate’ was completed in 2004 and formally dedicated to the city as a mainstay in 2006.

19. CHARLES LA TROBE STATUE – MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA

upside-down sculpture in melbourne

Image by Phil Lees licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Located outside La Trobe University, Melbourne sculptor Charles Robb says his humorous statue of Charles La Trobe, the first Governor of Victoria, “embodies the notion that universities should turn ideas on their heads”. Others have taken offence at the statue claiming it makes a mockery of Melbourne’s proud history. Whatever view you take, it’s certainly not the first time that public art has caused controversy.

20. DIGITAL ORCA – VANCOUVER, CANADA

photograph of modern digital orca sculpture

Image by Ruth Hartnup licensed under CC BY – 2.0

Douglas Coupland‘s 2009 sculpture ‘Digital Orca’ has quickly become a modern landmark for the city of Vancouver. It’s bizarre appearance as binary digital art in the 3D world has won praise for its message along with its aesthetic merits on the shores outside the Vancouver Convention Centre. In true public sculpture style, the centre’s security guards are on call to stop children from climbing on it.

That concludes our list of the 20 most bizarre public sculptures in the world today. Did we miss any out? Let us know in the comments section below.

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