One of the less-heralded aspects of seeing art out in the wilds of New York City is that no matter when you go—after a rainstorm on a humid evening, when the sky can blaze orange, or during a cool weekend morning, when it's crystalline blue—you'll always get a different experience. There's nothing wrong with seeing art in museums, of course: you don't need to be beneath a full moon to appreciate Starry Night. But when it comes to re-creating Frida Kahlo's Mexico City garden in the Bronx or building a water fountain in Brooklyn Bridge Park that responds to a kid's dirty feet, it's folly to try to put it under a roof. In fact, if you're the Met, you can put the art on top of the roof, and give it a spectacular view of Central Park. Here are 10 outdoor installations to see, and see again, this summer.
MoMA PS1 courtyard
Through September 7
For the last 15 years, the courtyard at MoMA's PS1 museum in Long Island City has played host to a variety of architectural experiments, but never a hanging garden. Well, almost like a hanging garden. Architect Andrés Jaque and the Office for Political Innovation have built something more like a giant water purifier—processing up to 3,000 gallons every four days, if all goes well—that could serve as a model for international water shortage solutions. Or, theoretically, just plenty of clean H2O during weekend rave parties.
Interactive Sculpture Garden
Through September 20
Take the ferry to Governors Island and find your way to the parade ground, which has been converted to a playland of interactive structures: climb inside a functioning tree house, recline under makeshift shady structures and play a round of artist-designed mini golf.
Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life
Through November 1
Jacaranda, sunflowers, ferns and an assortment of cacti fill the Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden as part of an exhibition of paintings and drawings by Frida Kahlo. The famous blue walls of the artist's home, La Casa Azul, in Mexico City, frame a scale version of the pyramid she built to show off the ancient art that she and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera, collected. The only things missing are the numerous hairless Xoloitzcuintli dogs she kept as pets.
Pierre Huyghe: The Rooftop Garden Commission
The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Through November 1
There's a massive fish tank on the roof of the Met all summer. No sharks, or dinosaurs, emerge from it, but there is a boulder of lava around which lampreys and tadpole shrimp swim. Elsewhere on the roof, paving stones have been upturned, as if under construction, and, on the other side, a modest-size boulder of Manhattan schist has been placed, an allusion to the rock on which the skyscrapers off in the distance are built.
Oh Sit! 14 Sculptors Consider the Chair
Tower Plaza in Highbridge Park
Through November 8
Don't let the title fool you: you aren’t expected to sit on these chairs. Nine local artists (members of the group known as 14 Sculptors), including Esther Grillo, who has spent years renovating historic bus shelters along Rockaway Beach, have created their own highly interpretative takes on the humble chair. The pieces have been installed near the newly reopened High Bridge, the oldest surviving bridge in New York City, which crosses the Harlem River to connect Manhattan and the Bronx.
Through November 30
If you've only been to Randall's Island for tennis or golf lessons, it's worth taking a stroll further afield, starting at the park side of the 103rd Street footbridge. Five artists—Nicholas Fraser, Sharon Ma, Rob Swainston, Rica Takashima and David J. Wilson—have wittily transformed the area with fake directional signs, plant-based invitations and upturned park benches.
Rashid Johnson: Blocks
The High Line
Through March 2016
You might not see the sculpture at first, just south of the Standard Hotel between Little West 12th and West 13th Streets. It's the minimalist three-dimensional steel black grid that is being grown over with plants on the High Line as summer kicks into high gear. What is more noticeable, however, is the collection of busts that the unit holds, each head made of shea butter—a material the artist has used in the past to create sculptures placed on top of Persian rugs or inside coffee tables—and now exposed to the elements.
Jeppe Hein: Please Touch the Art
Brooklyn Bridge Park
Through April 17, 2016
An early candidate for top provider of Instagram-worthy summer moments, this cheeky series of three installations in Brooklyn Bridge Park plays off the park's views of the city. In one, a group of mirrors mimics the shape of the Manhattan skyline across the river. Nearby, fire-engine-red benches twist cartoonishly, encouraging interaction. On hotter days, join the packs of children in the fountain, a water sculpture that, when you enter, sprays geysers of water upward—everywhere except where you’re standing.
Ark of Return
United Nations Headquarters
Those who have been to the moving African Burial Ground National Monument, just north of City Hall Park, might find the Ark of Return, installed at the United Nations Headquarters, somewhat familiar. The works have the same creator: Rodney Leon, a Haitian-American architect who has designed a geometric form to represent the “door of no return,” the last portal slaves on Senegal's Gorée Island passed through before being loaded onto ships bound for the Americas.
Jade Chan, In Flight
Patty Harris, Ride the Wave
John Garcia, Untitled
In a city with miles of graffiti, the longest mural in the five boroughs right now is actually in the Rockaways, specifically between 74th and 107th Streets on Shorefront Parkway. As part of Rockaway Barrier Beautification Project, artists Jade Chan, Patty Harris and John Garcia have covered the ubiquitous road barriers in colorful, ocean-worthy and beach-appropriate scenes of wave-riding surfers, birds and water.