9 Of The Most Fascinating Public Sculptures

For Architectural Digest, by Nick Mafi.

Commissioned public artwork has been part of our culture for many millennia. Over time, as world travel has become easier and safer, commissioned civil works of art have turned into tourist attractions all their own. From the bustling streets of New York City and Chicago to quieter corners of the globe in Howick, South Africa, and Las Colinas, Texas, Architectural Digest surveys 13 of the world’s most fascinating public sculptures. Each one answers a cultural curiosity — a question that was asked by a group or city officials, and answered by the artists.

Les Voyageurs, by French artist Bruno Catalano, in Marseilles, France is a sculpture meant to evoke memories and parts of themselves that every traveler inevitably leaves behind when they leave home for a new shore.

Created by Can Togayand Gyula Pauer, The Shoes On The Danube Bank were designed as a remembrance for the hundreds of Hungarian Jews who had to leave their shoes on the bank of the river before they were shot during the Holocaust in Hungary.

The Unknown Official, which is located in Reykjavik, Iceland, is a monument built in 1993 by Magnús Tómasson. Made of bronze and stone, the work of art shows a nondescript bureaucrat casually walking in no particular rush. What adds drama to the piece is the massive stone atop the body, proof that bureaucrat nor onlooker can have a conversation about the motives of the officials next move.

Transcendance by Keith Jellum. Located in Portland, Oregon, this 11-foot-long sculpture of a salmon was hand-fabricated in bronze. Pacific salmon can be seen leaping through the air at Willamette Falls, roughly 14 miles south of the city.

Nelson Mandela by Marco Cianfanelli. Located near Howick, South Africa, the sculpture was commissioned by Cultural Mechanics, a group that funds cultural projects for governments around the world. Cianfanelli’s work is positioned along the R103 road where Mandela was captured by apartheid security police in 1962; after his arrest, Mandela spent the next 27 years in prison.

Digital Orca by Douglas Coupland. Both beautiful and bizarre, this work of digital-looking art was commissioned by the city of Vancouver to overlook the harbor and the mountains of Cypress Provincial Park. Composed of steel armature with aluminum cladding and black and white cubes, the sculpture has become an attraction for tourists and locals alike.

First Generation by Chong Fah Cheong. The spirited sculpture, which was commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board, depicts a group of boys jumping into the Singapore River, not far from the Fullerton Hotel.

The Architectural Fragment by Petrus Spronk. Located in Melbourne, Australia, this sculpture that’s seemingly buried underground, stands before the state library of Victoria. It’s meant to symbolize the downfall of civilization, while alluding to the transience of the present. The city commissioned the work as part of a larger public art project in 1992.

Cloud Gate by Anish Kapoor. This 110-ton elliptical sculpture (also known as the Bean) is located in Millennium Park and reflects Chicago’s famous skyline—as well as the faces of visitors as they walk under the 12-foot high arch. Inspired by liquid mercury, the sculpture measures 66 feet long and 33 feet high.

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