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11 Hidden Oases of Art and Green in NYC

First Street Green mural by Adam Kidder Photo by Ann Shostrom
Mural by Adam Kidder (photo by Ann Shostrom, courtesy First Street Green)

There’s plenty of art to see in museums and galleries around New York City, but when the weather is lovely, it’s nice to have options available to enjoy art in public areas. Such places do exist — and not just well-known ones like Socrates Sculpture Park and the High Line (although those are well worth a visit). Across the five boroughs, quiet pockets of public green space offer a taste of culture outdoors. Here are some of our favorite finds, mapped and listed. We welcome suggestions of others in the comments.

First Street Green Park (33 E First St, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

Once an overgrown empty lot, First Street Garden is now an open art space that hosts a busy calendar of installations. Last year Rudy Shepherd planted “Black Rock Negative Energy Absorber” in the center of the garden, while Claudio Limon and Adam Kidder were among those who painted murals. Most recently, students from the Hetrick-Martin Institute installed a series of summer murals titled “We’re In This Love Together.”

Le Petit Versailles (247 E 2nd St, Lower East Side, Manhattan)

This pocket park, which recently welcomed a mural by Robert James Anderson, is another outdoor art space with an active schedule of events. It’s been home to a range of exhibitions, readings, performances, and film screenings for almost a decade, after Allied Productions, Inc. spent 14 years fixing up the land where an old auto-body shop used to be. The park also hosts open calls for project proposals involving essentially anything art-related (“spatio-social sculpture,” “underwater relational aesthetics,” and “erotic eschatology” are all welcome). Look out for a number of programs in the coming weeks.

(photo via @marayrrr212/Instagram) (click to enlarge)
Lina Puerta, “Blossom/En Flor” (2006–10) (photo by @marayrrr212/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

Modesto Flores Garden (159 E 103rd St, East Harlem, Manhattan)

Run by Hope Community, Inc., this hidden oasis is filled with gems, from a footbridge to a textured mural of a waterfall in a jungle. Its centerpiece is “Blossom/En Flor,” a mosaic sculpture that functions as a fountain to feed a small stream. Designed by Colombian-American artist Lina Puerta, the work is an ode to the women of East Harlem.

East Harlem Art Park (corner of E 120th St and Sylvan Place, East Harlem, Manhattan)

In the summer of 2010, the Citywide Monuments Conservation Crew restored Puerto Rican artist Jorge Luis Rodriguez’s 1985 sculpture “Growth,” the first project completed as part of the city’s Percent for Art program. You’ll find the slender, red steel piece towering over the flora of the East Harlem Art Park, which is tucked between the landmarked Harlem Courthouse and Casabe Houses.

Hall of Fame for Great Americans at Bronx Community College (West 181st St at University Ave, University Heights, The Bronx)

It’s not exactly a hidden garden, but on the grounds of the Bronx Community College visitors will find bronze busts of figures from Edgar Allen Poe to Walt Whitman to Harriet Beecher Stowe to John James Audubon. These portraits — 102 in total — reside in an impressive, open-air colonnade designed by Stanford White that spans 560 feet, and were created by artists including Robert Aitkin, Malvina Hoffman, and Lorado Taft.

(courtesy )
Jellyfish installation by Ashby Taylor from this year’s Bushwick Open Studios (photo by Nyssa Frank)

Bridging Bushwick Sculpture Garden (900 Broadway, Bushwick, Brooklyn)

This self-described “garden of waking dreams” opened last year and displays a continuously changing roster of artists, including those showing as part of Bushwick Open Studios. It’s run by Nyssa Frank of the Living Gallery, who welcomes anyone interested in participating to submit work, as long as the sculptures are set to brace the forces of nature.

Jane Bailey Memorial Garden (327 Greene Ave, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn)

The Jane Bailey Memorial Garden has served its community for over two decades, existing primarily as a vegetable garden and neighborhood hangout for picnics. This summer, however, it’s teaming up with Brooklyn Academy of Music, as part of BAM’s free Arts in the Gardens program, to host a range of events. You still have time to catch a night of ambient electronic music and Afrotronic funk or a film screening.

2010 sculpture by Musa Hixon (photo via @aislinnbrooke)
2010 sculpture by Musa Hixon (photo by @aislinnbrooke/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

Hattie Carthan Garden (Marcy Ave & Lafayette Ave, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn)

Formally the site of St Augustine Church, this green space holds an herb garden, flowerbeds, vegetable plots, and a variety of fruit trees. A number of works grace the space, including two 30-foot-tall, wooden East African stilt-walkers and a black marble statue. Most recently, Musa Hixon erected a delicate dreamcatcher sculpture as part of his Metropolis Arts Public Project Space endeavor.

Pratt Sculpture Park (200 Willoughby Ave, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn)

Spread across the 25 acres of Pratt Institute is a selection of over 50 sculptures curated by Professor David Weinrib. Find a number of Philip Grausman’s larger-than-life heads; an imposing, gravity-defying beam by Takashi Soga; and many benches sculpted by a variety of artists. It may not be the most secluded green place to relax in, but with many students currently on break, there’s probably no better time than the dog days to take advantage of the reduced traffic.

Noguchi Museum Garden (9-01 33rd Rd, Long Island City, Queens)

Adjacent to the Noguchi Museum is this tranquil sculpture garden, which holds over 200 works by renowned sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The garden has been undergoing renovations since last September, but it’s scheduled to reopen sometime soon. In the meantime, look forward to the forthcoming Noguchi exhibition in September at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

View of the Chinese Scholar Garden (photo via fattyowls/Instagram)
View of the Chinese Scholar Garden (photo by @fattyowls/Instagram)

Chinese Scholar’s Garden (1000 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Astor Chinese Garden Court is one of the institution’s most unique galleries, but it’s also one of the most frequented. Find true tranquility at Snug Harbor Cultural Center’s version of traditional Ming Dynasty gardens, which offers mini waterfalls, koi-filled ponds, a bamboo path, and an array of pavilions to relax in with a book. It’s just one of the many gardens on the grounds of Snug Harbor.

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