Art in the open

Cooped-up travellers who need their cultural fix can go anywhere in the world now on artsy virtual tours.

But when the planet emerges from lockdown, I wonder if we will still trade the confines of our four walls for constrictive or crowded museums?

The pandemic will change the way people travel. Rather than rubbing shoulders with potentially asymptomatic museumgoers, imagine seeing works of art with Mother Nature as the backdrop.

I remember the works of art I have encountered in the most unassuming places outdoors – a beach, for instance, and the hiking trails of Austria.

Free art in the great outdoors is a sight for sore eyes and a fresh-air escape.

Here are seven artsy forays to look forward to when all this is over.

• Based in Switzerland, Australia-born Michelle Tchea has authored books on food, wine and travel. She loves free art, if only because she can then spend more on culinary pleasures.

1 NIAGARA STRAIT AND FLORAL SHOWHOUSE, NIAGARA PARKS AND FALLS, CANADA


Niagara Strait and Floral Showhouse, Niagara Parks and Falls, Canada. PHOTO: NIAGARA PARKS

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Canada and its Ontario province, local artist Gordon Reeve created a large-scale sculpture of stainless-steel walls that resemble the sheer walls of the Niagara Gorge.

Other things to explore in the Niagara Falls Botanical Gardens, where the gorge is found, include a butterfly conservatory.

Or simply take a long walk in the park – perfect after a maple-drenched pancake.

A hop, skip and jump away from the touristy Niagara Falls – and also within driving distance to the park – is the Floral Showhouse. The miniature architecture surrounded by seasonal floral displays can be your Disneyland in Canada.

Info: Niagara Parks website

2 BUS:STOP KRUMBACH PROJECT, VORARLBERG, AUSTRIA


Bus:Stop Krumbach project, Vorarlberg, Austria. PHOTO: MICHELLE TCHEA

Austrians head to Vorarlberg state when winter begins and ski slopes open. But as a non-skier, I visit the mountainous region in spring for hikes and great food, minus the crowds.

The region also houses the Bus:Stop Krumbach project. Seven renowned architects came together to reimagine the humble bus stop as art, even as all seven bus stops remain functional.

If you love nature and art, the three-hour self-guided walk takes you to all the artworks in a very unusual art walk.

My favourite bus stop is by architect Sou Fujimoto from Japan: vertical sticks encase a staircase which you can walk up and down.

Info: Bregenzerwald.at website

3 FREDERIK MEIJER GARDENS & SCULPTURE PARK, MICHIGAN, THE UNITED STATES


Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, Michigan. PHOTO: MEIJER GARDENS

The Grand Rapids in Michigan is home to the beautiful Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park.

It is dotted with sculptures, such as Jaume Plensa’s I, you, she or he… and art museums.

Visitors can take a guided-tour bus, but I recommend exploring the park on foot. Pause at the sculptures, which are mapped out, and also themed gardens like the Richard & Helen DeVos Japanese Garden.

Events have included an exhibition by Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei. Look out for butterflies in March, chrysanthemums in September and Christmas lights in December.

Info: Meijer Gardens website

4 EKEBERGPARKEN SCULPTURE PARK, OSLO, NORWAY


Ekebergparken Sculpture Park, Oslo, Norway. PHOTO: DIANE MACLEAN/BONO

What I love about the Ekebergparken in Norway is the obscurity of the artworks.

The 42 sculptures are somewhat eerie and also open to personal interpretations – like the one standing alone on a platform as if contemplating life and death. There are also hanging sculptures from trees with golden bodies wrapped in coil.

Admission to the park is free, and you will also spy the works of artists, such as Open Book by Diane Maclean.

Other artists featured include Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell and Roni Horn.

Info: Ekebergparken website

5 Y, THE FIVE PILLARS & LA BOULE D’OR CENTENAIRE PUBLIC ART, ZURICH, SWITZERLAND


Y (above), The Five Pillars & La Boule D’or Centenaire Public Art, Zurich. PHOTO: TOURISM ZURICH

Switzerland is an expensive country, but there is free art to be enjoyed in many of its cities.

Standouts include Y in Zurich, The Five Pillars and the La Boule d’or Centenaire, which are all found in the city, where a cuppa costs nine Swiss francs (S$13).

Y is my favourite. Installed in 2011, it may be the most fun and interactive public art you can find in the country.

The installation by artist Sislej Xhafa, located in Hardau Park in the western part of Zurich, stands at 15m and looks like a giant slingshot.And guess what? It is also a giant swing.

Info: Official Zurich City Guide

6 LOUNGE ROOM, ST GALLEN, SWITZERLAND


Lounge Room, St Gallen, Switzerland. PHOTO: ST GALLEN-BODENSEE TOURISMUS

St Gallen is my favourite city in Switzerland.

It reminds me of Brooklyn in New York – cool, eclectic and undiscovered until it was overrun by celebrities.

Imagine an open-air lounge room, with a bright red carpet and hanging lamps from the buildings that enclose the “room” in the cool Bleichi district.

The artists Carlos Martinez and Pipilotti Rist turned the shopping and office enclave into a hub for locals and visitors to hang out – do that after eating the famous St Gallen bratwurst sausage.

Info: City Lounge – Red Square MySwitzerland website

7 HAKONE OPEN-AIR MUSEUM, JAPAN


Hakone Open-air Museum, Japan. PHOTO: JNTO

English artist Henry Moore once said: “Sculpture is an art of the open air.”

Here, travellers can gaze at his monumental bronze sculptures amid the natural splendour of mountains.

This is my all-time favourite art museum. Art pieces include Niki de St Phalle’s Miss Black Power and Arnaldo Pomodoro’s sphere, Sfera Con Stera.

Similar works of art can be found in Italy, but for Asia dwellers, Japan is a nearer option.

The museum lies in Japan’s hot-springs region, so be sure to find a lovely family-run spa and relax after your stroll.

Info: Hakone Open-Air Museum

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