Mondo’s picks: 6 curious works of outdoor art

Why is Sigmund Freud hanging from the edge of a roof in Prague? Why is there a Prada boutique in the middle of the Texas desert? Mondo introduces six pieces of surprising art.

Yellow Pumpkin, Naoshima
Yayoi Kusama's Yellow Pumpkin has been one of the most photographed works on Naoshima.

1. Giant polka-dotted pumpkin, Naoshima

In the inland sea of Seto, Japan, there are three islands dedicated to art: Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima. There is art both indoors and outdoors.

The largest of the islands is Naoshima, which houses several museums. This island alone offers enough art to admire for a few days. The main attraction at the Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum, designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando, “the King of Concrete”, features works by artists such as Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

The museum’s most famous piece is – or actually was – located on the shore in front of it. Yayoi Kusama’s sculpture Yellow Pumpkin, which had become a symbol of the entire island, was swept out to sea by a typhoon in August 2021. It was rescued, but badly damaged. At the time of writing this article, the sculpture was still under restoration.

Untitled 1986 or The Headington Shark, Oxford
A nearly 8-meter shark sculpture turns heads in Headington, Oxford.

2. Shark on a roof, Oxford

In Headington, a few kilometers from the city center of Oxford, there is on ordinary house that is famous in Britain. The reason for the fame is the sculpture (Untitled 1986) known as The Headington Shark, which has been on the roof of the building since 1986. This piece by sculptor John Buckley was commissioned by the owner of the building to symbolize people’s rage and frustration with nuclear weapons; it was unveiled on the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

The Headinton Shark was made without a proper planning permission, but a ministry-level decision allowed it to remain in place.

The Headington Shark has both generated admiration and caused a stir. It was made without a proper planning permission, but a ministry-level decision allowed it to remain in place. In 2013, a local newspaper published an April Fool’s Day story claiming that the roofs of other buildings in the area would also be provided with similar sculptures. The son of the sculptor has bought the house to preserve the piece. Nowadays, the apartment with the shark on the roof can be rented via AirBnB.

Hanging Freud, Prague
A hanging Sigmund Freud appeared above Prague's Husova street in 1996.

3. Hanging Freud, Prague

When strolling along the Husova street in Prague’s Old Town, it’s worth turning your gaze up. That’s where you can spot the sculpture depicting Sigmund Freud, made by David Černý. This statue of Freud, who is known as the developer of psychoanalysis, hangs by one hand from an iron rod extended from a rooftop. Many passers-by have at first been startled by the sculpture, mistaking it for a real person in danger.

Černý has become known for his provocative works. He has, for example, made statues of babies climb up the wall of the Žižkov Television Tower in Prague and mounted a huge statue of a hand with an extended middle finger on a barge floating on River Vltava. The hanging Freud sculpture became so popular that it went on a world tour and visited cities like London and Michigan. According to the artist, the sculpture is a statement about intellectualism in the 20th century.

Mano del Desierto, Atacama Desert, Chile
Mario Irarrázabal has created two large hand sculptures in South America: Mano del Desierto in the Atacama dessert in Chile and La Mano on the coast of Uruguay.

4. Hand in the desert, Atacama Desert

In 1992, something bizarre was erected in the Atacama Desert in Chile: an 11-meter hand. The piece, Mano del Desierto (Hand of the Desert), made by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal of iron and concrete, depicts helplessness and is said to symbolize the human rights violations conducted in Chile in the past. The hand is located about 60 kilometers southeast of the city of Antofagasta. The large desert of Atacama is also known for other sights: salt flats, lagoons, geysers and stunning starry skies at night. You can explore the area on your own by rental car or on tours that can be purchased in nearby cities.

Architectural Fragment, Melbourne
The Architectural Fragment in Melbourne is also known as the sinking library.

5. Sinking library, Melbourne

There is a startling piece of art on the pavement in front of the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne, Australia: it looks like an entire library building was about to sink into the ground and only one corner remained visible. The artist Petrus Spronk got the inspiration for the sculpture Architectural Fragment, made in 1992, while traveling in Samos, Greece. During that trip on the island, he saw fragments of the ruins of classical buildings. Another source of inspiration was the notorious philosopher Pythagoras of Samos, which is why the sculpture forms a triangle like in the famous Pythagorean theorem.

Petrus Spronk got the inspiration for the sculpture Architectural Fragment while traveling in Samos, Greece.

The sculpture is made of the same type of stone as many other structures on the nearby block, and its shapes also reflect the architecture of the State Library of Victoria. In Melbourne, Architectural Fragment is known by the nickname of sinking library, and it is located along a pedestrian route featuring the city’s public works of art.

Melbourne is often at the top of lists of the most pleasant residential cities in the world, and it is also a great destination for tourists. In addition to the climate and services, the lively cultural scene increases the popularity of the city. The city has plenty of colorful street culture as well as, say, high-quality galleries to offer. The National Gallery of Victoria is a modern world-class museum that also features art by Indigenous Australians.

Prada Marfa
Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset's replica of a Prada boutique in the West Texas Desert has drawn a lot of attention.

6. Prada boutique, Marfa

What on earth is a Prada boutique doing in the middle of nowhere? The artistic installation Prada Marfa by the Danish-Norwegian artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset strikes the viewer as truly puzzling.

The art installation modeled after a fashion boutique by the luxury brand is located in the West Texas Desert, a few kilometers from the town of Valentine and about 40 kilometers from the city of Marfa. The products are genuine, but the doors are always closed.

Viewing the installation is difficult to include in any trip, which is precisely the point. It seems like the last place on earth to have a Prada boutique.

The original intent of the artists was to let the building gradually degrade into its surroundings, but they had to revise the plan when the boutique was graffitied and the products were stolen the night the sculpture was competed. The installation was repaired, and the incident gave it international publicity. Prada Marfa has later been vandalized and subjected to strange stunts, and it has also been featured in The Simpsons.

See also:

All art books at Finnish Design Shop >
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Text: Valtteri Väkevä and Pekka Hiltunen Photos: All Over Press

This story was first published in Mondo's issue 12/21.

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