The Best Public Art Over the Years

If the Anish Kapoor sculpture coming (possibly in the next couple of months) to 56 Leonard lives up to its renderings, I think it’ll turn into a symbol of Tribeca—the way that the building itself already is for a lot of people. Even though it’s technically private art, it got me thinking of public art over the years—and in particular, the installations that really dazzled. This is by no means a comprehensive list; these are simply the ones that I remember most fondly or wish that I’d seen. Feel free to add your own in the comments. (P.S. I didn’t include FiDi, except for Battery Park, because I don’t feel like I’m up enough on it, beyond the Isamu Noguchi stuff at 28 Liberty and 140 Broadway.)


“ARC” (1980-87) AND “T.W.U.” (1980-81) BY RICHARD SERRA
From April 24, 1980, to January 30, 1987, the circular area surrounded by the Holland Tunnel off-ramp was home to a massive Richard Serra sculpture, “Arc.” And from April 24, 1980, to July 30, 1981, another Serra sculpture, “T.W.U.,” was at Finn Square. Both were Public Art Fund projects.


In a recent profile of Denes, T Magazine declared the two-acre wheat field in Battery Park City (when it was just landfill) “one of the most significant artworks in New York City history.” Once the wheat was harvested, the artwork disappeared. There are more photos on Denes’s website.


In 1977, Otterness shot a dog he had adopted, videotaping the killing and calling it art. Can we separate that despicable behavior—for which he has repeatedly apologized—from his other artworks, many of which create such joy? (You’ve also seen his work at the 14th Street A/C/E subway station.) It’s something to wrestle with next time you visit Otterness’s “Real World” at Rockefeller Park in Battery Park City.


“Eyes”? Yeah, right.


I’ve been underwhelmed by most of the Public Art Fund’s exhibitions in City Hall Park. What’s the point of a site-specific installation if it could be anywhere? British artist Julian Opie’s sculpture show was an exception, memorably coloring outside the usual lines in City Hall Park. The highlight: the crosswalk-sign-style people strolling on the steps of the Tweed Courthouse.


French artist JR has made his mark on this area many times: “Unframed” at Ellis Island, the James Dean mural in the Greenwich Hotel’s courtyard, the Ellis Island orphans currently interred behind 100 Franklin…. But my personal favorites are the dancers at 286 Spring and (previously) 100 Franklin. If you like his work and haven’t seen the documentary Faces Places—about his relationship and collaboration with director Agnès Varda—I highly recommend it. (I suppose this is also technically private art, but whatever.)




  1. I love the little bullfrog with tongue extended outside of PS 234 too .. Always makes me smile :)

  2. The Twins </3

  3. Serra’s Tilted Arc on Foley Square’s Federal Plaza provoked a reaction.

    • remember are by serra but image show on this site i believe is not front of fbi bldg at 26 federal plaza long time ago. olf wtc in background as far as i remember could not be seen like this back then from 26.

  4. “In 1977, Otterness shot a dog he had adopted, videotaping the killing and calling it art. ”

    This is horrifying and decadent. Our “art world” has long gone off the deep end into insanity.

    Knowing this has ruined any enjoyment of his other works for me.

    • I think, with Otterness, you’re staring right into the question of forgiveness. The man did something horrific. He apologized. And now he makes beautiful, original art that delights adult and child alike. I don’t have an answer, and I’m not choosing sides. You can either appreciate who he is now, or dwell on his past. There’s a good argument for either option.

    • i agree with marcus, otterness shot a dog and in my book he is a loser.

  5. Otterness was 27 yrs. old when he adopted that poor little dog, and supposedly he shot the dog as performance art to express his anger. I hate the guy but have NEVER mentioned it to my daughter when she was young nor any little kid I happen to be cruising by one of his pieces with.
    What a creep but I am glad he seems to be expressing himself differently these days but no way would I support Lower Manhattan buying any further commissions. Time for opportunities for other artists.