People’s thirst for original, inspiring and mind-blowing works of art is no longer satisfied by stately sculptures of heroes. We can still appreciate the stunning beauty of classic works like Michelangelo’s David and other masterpieces, but our brains are crazy about things that it does not expect to see. So if a sculpture has a unique twist, a dynamic appeal, a gravity-defying character, or other intriguing features, we’re pretty much sold.
Thankfully, more and more artists are happy to embellish their cities with unexpected, original, fun and inspiring pieces of art. Here’s a collection of some of the most interesting sculptures that you can find while wandering around in this huge world of ours.
- Man in Water Stockholm
- Non-Violence, NYC
- First Generation, Singapore
- The Walker through Walls (Le Passe-Muraille), Paris
- De Vaartkapoen, Brussels
- Space Cow, Stockholm
- The Paparazzi, Bratislava
- Man at Work, Bratislava
- The Piss Sculpture, Prague
- Walking to the Sky, Dallas
- Metalmorphosis, Charlotte
- SalaKeoku, Nong Khai, Thailand
- Cloud Gate, Chicago
- Mano del Desierto, Atacama Desert
- St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse, Prague
- Le Pouce, Paris
- The Headington Shark, Oxford
- Franz Kafka Monument, Prague
- Corporate Head, Los Angeles
- Giant Fork Sculpture, Springfield
- Alligator Eating a Capitalist, NYC
- Charles La Trobe Statue, Melbourne
- The Headless Musician, Amsterdam
- Hombre Rio, Guadalquivir River, Cordoba
- Little Woodcutter Statue, Amsterdam
- The Violinist in the City Opera House Floor, Amsterdam
- Depression Bread Line, New Jersey
Man in Water Stockholm
This is actually one of the many unique statues in Stockholm, Sweden. You can find it in front of the Parliament House, floating on the water and giving you a really weird feeling. It is actually composed of two floating pieces – one depicting part of a person’s face (the nose and mouth area), and the other representing his hand pointing at something out of the water. The installation gives you the impression that a giant person is actually submerged underwater and you can’t really tell if he’s ok or not.
The message of this large sculpture is obvious and inspiring. Also referred to as The Knotted Gun, the sculpture is actually officially called Non-Violence. You can find it in New York City, at the United Nations Headquarters. If New York is too far away from you, you can check out one of sculpture’s 15 other copies, spread around the world. Most of them are located in Sweden, as the artist who created it – Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd – is Swedish. The giant bronze Colt Python 375 Magnum revolver can also be seen in Luxembourg, Germany, France, Switzerland, South Africa and China. Reuterswärd created the Non-Violence monument after the tragic murder of John Lennon.
First Generation, Singapore
This really amazing work can be found near the Cavenagh Bridge in Singapore. It evokes happy moments of the city’s early days, when young children would play and bathe in the Singapore River without a worry in the world. Clueless to the dangers of swimming in the unsanitary and polluted waters of the river, they would swing from tree branches and noisily jump in for splashes and dives.
In 1983, the Clean Rivers project was initiated, and the kids and their families were removed from the area, and so their laughter and swimming stopped. Artist Chong Fah Cheong found a way to bring a shadow of that happy past into the present and make it immortal by creating this dynamic work depicting five boys playing on the river bank and jumping into the water.
The Walker through Walls (Le Passe-Muraille), Paris
This is one of those “surprise sculptures” that you find in the least expected of places. The Walker through Walls is a really impressive piece that is located (or rather “trapped”) in the wall of a private car park in Montmartre, Paris. Because it is not displayed in a famous square or some other busy public place, tourists need to actively seek it, which kind of gives it a treasure-hunting-like appeal.
Created by French sculptor and actor Jean Marais, the bronze sculpture pays tribute to French writer Marcel Aymé, who created this intriguing character that could walk through walls, in a novel called The Walker through Walls (Le Passe-Muraille). The half-trapped sculpture in Montmartre actually shows what the ultimate fate of the character is.
De Vaartkapoen, Brussels
This snapshot-like statue was created by Belgian artist Tom Frantzen in Brussels, his hometown. Inspired by and in love with a typical Brussels-born type of humor and lifestyle called zwanze, the artist decided to immortalize this unique “art de vivre” in a funny and dynamic sculpture. Thus De Vaartkapoen was born, depicting a young rebel (to whom the name of the sculpture refers) tripping a policeman by popping up from under a manhole cover and grabbing him by the foot.
What makes the situation even funnier is the fact that a “nobody” overthrows authority in an unexpected and very literal way. The artist leaves the rest of the scene to our imagination, while also providing an excellent spot for taking a picture or two, which most tourists always do.
Space Cow, Stockholm
Another weird sculpture in Stockholm, the Space Cow is a funny-slash-disturbing sight. Anchored by (hopefully) very strong wires, the sculpture seems to be floating in midair, which is actually exactly what you would expect to meet a space cow.
The sculpture keeps the massive anatomy of an actual cow, which successfully enhances the funny factor. Dressed up in a custom space suite with boots, space helmet, teat cups and no udder covers, the cow is both amusing and weird looking.
The Paparazzi, Bratislava
There is a series of surprising metal statues across Bratislava, Slovakia. One of them is strategically placed near the Paparazzi Restaurant, and it depicts a sneaky person with a hat and a huge camera who tries to take a picture of people walking in and out of the restaurant. The man appears to have just peeked from around the corner to steal a few shots of someone important. It’s not uncommon for passersby to feel like there is an actual person near the restaurant, even if they know about the statue and have seen it before.
Man at Work, Bratislava
Man at Work, also known as Cumil is one of the most famous statues in Bratislava. It was created in 1997 and it is still a very mysterious character, as people cannot decide what he is actually doing there, peeking out of a manhole. Some say he is simply resting, others think he is a cheeky little guy looking up women’s skirts. Whatever his story is, tourists find it very interesting and often buy souvenirs depicting him.
With a permanent smile on his face, the man has been hit several times by cars passing by. These reoccurring incidents have determined the local authorities to put up a street sign entirely dedicated to the statue, which says “Man at Work”, and which may be a little confusing for people who don’t know about the sculpture and expect to see an actual person working in the street.
The Piss Sculpture, Prague
While little cherub characters urinating in fountains may be cute, this sculpture by artist David Černý is actually a little disturbing. It depicts two grown men facing each other while urinating. Their restraint-free activity also seems to have led to a urine puddle (shaped like the map of the Czech Republic) in which they appear to stand without any sign of discomfort.
Affectionately called “Piss”, the exhibit has a funny surprise for tourists. If you text a message to the number that you can find next to the sculpture, the two uninhibited guys will start wiggling their bronze penises and spell your text message into the puddle. Weird but undeniably funny!
Walking to the Sky, Dallas
Created by artist Jonathan Borofsky, this unique landmark can be found at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. The sculpture was initially installed at Rockefeller Center in 2004, and then moved to its current location the following year. There are two more copies of it, one on the campus of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and another in Seoul, South Korea.
The story behind the sculpture is actually an endearing one. In Borofsky’s own words, it represents “a celebration of the human potential for discovering who we are and where we need to go”. When the artist was a young boy, his father would tell him stories about a giant in the sky, and together they would walk up to him and learn about what everybody on Earth needed to do. The 100-foot pole is a representation of those childhood stories.
Quite science-fiction looking, the giant Metalmorphosis landmark is a kinetic sculpture created by Czech artist David Černý. You can find it at the Whitehall Technology Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, and if you are lucky enough you may also see it in action.
The 23-foot-tall mirrored metal head is composed of vertical slices that can rotate to deconstruct the shape of the sculpture and then recompose it after a few slightly confusing turns. The head also spits out water to make things extra interesting.
SalaKeoku, Nong Khai, Thailand
We are no longer talking about an individual sculpture here. SalaKeoku is actually a park of giant concrete statues inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism. The fantastic creatures are both intriguing and a little creepy. While some pieces have relatively more modest dimensions, others soar up to 82 feet towards the sky. One of the most interesting installations here, called Wheel of Life, is a group of sculptures that represent the circle of life, from birth until demise, and which surprisingly ends with a man stepping out of the circle and becoming a Buddha statue next to it.
Cloud Gate, Chicago
Artist Anish Kapoor created the Cloud Gate sculpture between 2004 and 2006. Also known as The Bean, the 33-foot-high sculpture is made of 168 stainless steel plates that are seamlessly welded together to create a smooth mirror-like surface. Its 12-foot arch allows people to sneak underneath it and find an “omphalos” or “navel” above them, which warps reality in its unique reflections.
The name of the structure was given by the artist himself, simply because eighty percent of the sculpture reflects the sky above. The concept is simple, yet very engaging, and we dare say that it exudes a certain out-of-this-world elegance as well. Visiting this wonderful landmark is a memorable experience that countless tourists continue to discover every day. You’ll find it at the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, Chicago.
Mano del Desierto, Atacama Desert
Lost in the Atacama Desert, Chile, the giant sculpture of a hand reaching out from the ground is a very surprising sight. It was created by artist Mario Irarrázabal, who wanted to emphasize the helplessness and vulnerability of humankind with this oversized work of art. The 36 foot sculpture is situated at an altitude of approximately 3,600 feet above sea level. If you want to see it up close, just head onto the Panamerican Highway’s Route 5.
St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse, Prague
Another famous David Černý work is the statue of St. Wenceslas Riding a Dead Horse. You can see it hanging from the ceiling of the Art Nouveau Lucerna Palace in Prague, Czech Republic. It doesn’t take much to understand that this is a piece of satirical art. It shows King Wenceslas, who later became a Saint, riding an upside down, and seemingly dead horse. Judging by his stately pose, the man doesn’t even seem to realize that his horse is dead, which is probably a hint as to how clueless people of authority often are.
Le Pouce, Paris
There is a 40-foot thumb somewhere in Paris and we can’t decide whether it’s impressive or disgusting. What’s even weirder is that it is located in the capital’s largest business district, La Défense. We would have expected to see something much glossier and shinier in a corporate park, but you know art – it is meant to awaken emotions, not to remain unnoticed.
Regardless of what emotions this 18-ton sculpture awakens in you, it remains a remarkable work of art. Sculptor César Baldaccini finished it in 1965 with plenty of help from technology. After taking a mold of his own thumb, he started creating oversized replicas of it, with all the anatomical details, fingerprint included. The best known copy is definitely the one standing in Paris, called “Le Pouce”, or “The Thumb”.
The Headington Shark, Oxford
A totally unexpected appearance, the Headington Shark is a 25-foot long sculpture of a shark that seems to have landed head-first on a roof. Funny as it may look, the fiber glass sculpture is actually meant to raise awareness on the tragedies that mankind has generated over the course of history. More specifically, it points to the feeling of desperation and helplessness that was generated by nuclear accidents and attacks. Officially called “Untitled, 1986”, the sculpture was placed on radio presenter Bill Heine’s house in Oxford, UK on the 41st anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing.
Franz Kafka Monument, Prague
If you expect to see some boring lifelike portrait of the iconic writer, you are in for quite a surprise. The 12.3-foot sculpture shows a giant Kafka with no hands or head piggybacking a smaller but complete version of himself. Revealed in 2003, the monument is actually inspired by one of the author’s short stories called “Description of a Match”. The story describes a spiritual split of the main character’s duality. This exact split is embodied in the two Kafkas of the monument, one of which is no longer there, because the other one has defeated its dominant (in this case “large”) character.
Corporate Head, Los Angeles
This sculpture definitely has an impact on any passerby. It shows a man who has literally lost his head into an actual physical corporate building, hinting to the difficult situations in which corporate employees often find themselves. The piece was created by Terry Allen in 1991 and is accompanied by a poem by Philip Levine.
The sculpture and the poem work together to raise awareness to the fact that people go through unbearable pressures in order to survive in the highly competitive and morality-free corporate world. In order to help viewers better empathize with the character, the poem was placed onto the ground, thus forcing the reader to imitate the sculpture’s position.
Giant Fork Sculpture, Springfield
Arguably the largest fork in the world, this giant structure surprises with its size and randomness. It used to be a more relevant sculpture when it stood in front of a now-closed restaurant, drawing people’s attention with its 35-foot angled stance. After the restaurant ceased to exist, the 11-ton fork was purchased by Noble & Associates, a Springfield, Missouri ad agency. It now stands in front of the company’s building, which is not entirely nonsensical, as the agency has done plenty of work for various food companies. ( photo by Chris Basnett )
Alligator Eating a Capitalist, NYC
Apparently this sculpture is “inspired by true events”. Don’t worry, though, no alligator ever came out of the sewers to eat people with money bags for heads, or regular people for that matter. In 1935 a real alligator crawled out of a manhole, but never even got the chance to attack (or maybe just run and hide), because it was beaten to death on the spot. Many years later, artist Tom Otternessmade the underground world his source of inspiration for a really big project that he called “Life Underground”.
Among the over 100 sculptures scattered across NYC subway platforms, there is one that pays homage to the poor unfortunate gator who got lost in the sewers back in ’35. The reptile and the man are both cartoonish in design, which really helps in toning down the sculpture’s scary factor.
Charles La Trobe Statue, Melbourne
Before you jump to conclusions and accuse the artist of disrespect towards historic figures, let us tell you a little more about the upside down portrait of Charles La Trobe, the first lieutenant-governor of Victoria, Australia. The 16.4-foot statue was designed by sculptor Charles Robb and installed in its unexpected position at the La Trobe University in Bundoora, Melbourne, Australia. While its seemingly mocking position has caused a little bit of controversy, the artist’s message was pretty clear and actually very positive and healthy. Robb said that statue “embodies the notion that universities should turn ideas on their heads”. An excellent visual incentive for an education facility!
The Headless Musician, Amsterdam
While the sculpture itself is really interesting, what makes it even more intriguing is the fact that apparently nobody knows who the artist behind it is. The headless musician also fails to reveal his identity, which keeps us all into a loop of mystery. Rumor has it that the artist is actually a doctor who creates sculptures in his spare time – which would definitely explain his knowledge of human anatomy. There are also other bronze statues attributed to the elusive artist, and they are reportedly scattered around the city. This one can be found in Marnix Park, Amsterdam.
Hombre Rio, Guadalquivir River, Cordoba
It is said that when this 4,400-pound floating sculpture appeared in the Guadalquivir River in Cordoba, Spain, no one really knew where it had come from. The local authorities were taken by surprise as well, according to some reports, saying that nobody had come to them to request any authorization for the project. It was only later that the names of the “culprits” were discovered: Rafael Cornejo and Francisco Marcos, two local artists. The floating man called Hombre Rio was made of polyester and anchored to the riverbed with 39 feet long chains.
Little Woodcutter Statue, Amsterdam
We get a real sense of satisfaction whenever we come across a hidden work of art in the most unexpected of places. This one is an excellent example. The tiny woodcutter sculpture is only 19.6 inches tall and it sits on a tree branch, quietly doing its thing – which is nothing, actually. People often pass it by without even noticing it, even though it is situated opposite the bridge from the Leidseplein, which is a busy area, often filled with tourists. Some say that the artist behind the statuette is Queen Beatrix herself, but no one really knows who actually made it.
The Violinist in the City Opera House Floor, Amsterdam
Large and impressive as it is, apparently this statue too is a mystery one. Its maker has remained anonymous, but his (or her) message is loud and clear. The oversized violinist bursting from the City Opera House floor in Amsterdam cannot be passed by without a sense of wonder and curiosity. Beautifully executed, the sculpture evokes the rich Jewish culture of the Dutch capital. There was a flourishing Jewish community in the district before World War II, and this is a beautiful reminder of those times.
Depression Bread Line, New Jersey
This group of somber-looking bronze statues evoke a difficult time in the history of the United States. The five men standing in line offer us a glimpse of a time when people needed government assistance to make it through the day, every day. While it evokes the difficult days of the Great Depression, the installation also pays tribute to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the country in an incredibly difficult time and helped it regain its optimism, stability and national spirit.