Our Favorite Art in Public Places


One of the things we really enjoy about Washington, DC is its “walk-ability.” In fact, Prevention magazine named it one of the top 10 best walking cities. The city’s great public transportation system makes it easy for you to explore the whole District—and even some suburbs—on foot. And the Hamilton has a great parking included package, so you can park your car and not worry while you’re here.

While you’re walking around, you’ll be able to experience the world-class outdoor art around the city. Here are a few of our favorite places to enjoy:

Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden – The Hirshhorn houses the contemporary art collection of the Smithsonian, and that’s reflected in its outdoor sculpture garden. With works by Rodin, Matisse, Koons and Calder, it’s a great place to reflect and enjoy a summer afternoon by the reflecting pool. (Metro: Smithsonian)

The National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden – also contains works by Calder as well as Oldenburg, Miro, Lichtenstein and many others. Perhaps the best known is Oldenberg’s Typewriter Eraser, Scale X . The Sculpture Garden is home to the Pavilion Café as well as host of Jazz in the Garden on Friday evenings in the Summer. (Metro: Smithsonian)

Less well known is the Sculpture Garden at the Organization of American States building at 17th & Constitution, NW. There are a variety of sculptures celebrating instrumental figures in the Americas including Pablo Neruda, Jose del Valle, Simon Bolivar and George Washington. (Metro: Farragut West)

Even the decoration of some buildings should count as art. Just look at the reliefs and carvings and the Court of Neptune Fountain at the Library of Congress at 1st and Independence SE (Metro: Capitol South).

Or look up the next time you’re at the Lincoln Memorial – you’ve probably never noticed the murals near the ceiling inside.

At varying locations around town you can also find some of the Party Animals-elephants and donkeys (symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties)—that were part of a larger city-wide public art project in 2002. Each of the animal statues were decorated by local artists and organizations and auctioned off at the end of the exhibition. A few of the party animals are still on display by the organizations that purchased them. (The Postal Service had my favorite-decorated with every stamp at the National Postal Museum.)

No city would be complete without murals decorating the walls of the urban landscape. DC is no exception – and particularly well known are the murals of the U Street neighborhood, starting with the “Community Rhythms” mural in the U Street Metro Station. While you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to find the Duke Ellington Mural at 1200 U Street and the Bohemian Caverns Mural featuring Miles Davis and Shirley Horn at 11th & U.

Even some of our bike racks are works of art – and gifts from Switzerland. On Bike to Work day last month, the Ambassador from Switzerland and the Mayor of Zurich presented the city with 10 artistic bike racks by Swiss-American artist Annina Luck. Keep your eyes open for them around the city including in Dupont Circle, Eastern Market and near the Building Museum – you’ll recognize them by their Swiss themes such as cows, Swiss cheese, the Alps, and the Swiss flag.

And June is Artomatic, the definition of public art – it’s an art show free to the general public and very inclusive. This year features nine floors of visual art, plus dance, music and street performances. You can even see the finalists in the Washington Post’s Peeps Diorama contest, in which contestants fashion fanciful and funny scenes out of—wait for it—Candy Peeps. Artomatic is celebrating its 10th year – be sure to stop by 55 M Street, SE. (Metro: Navy Yard, Ballpark Exit). Fair warning – not all exhibits at Artomatic are family friendly, but there are specific children’s events scheduled, so you can plan accordingly.

What other public art have you found walking around town? Share a photo.


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