Each year, Washington, DC, hosts millions of visitors from around the world. These tourists, along with the District’s 700,000 residents, wander and explore the city’s numerous streets, parks, and other public spaces. With so many people out and about, outdoor art has been installed along the city’s streets, and within its parks and plazas, enhancing the city’s landscape. This tour seeks to highlight some of the public abstract artwork found throughout DC, from large metal sculptures in the city’s center to human figures dancing in a neighborhood park. No matter their location, these works exist in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and materials.
While “public artwork” casts a wide net, this tour is focused on abstract works for a few reasons. Other tours, like the “Commemorative Monuments and Memorials”, “American Revolutionary Statues”, and “Civil War Monuments” tours found on this website all feature sites that focus on historic events. This tour moves away from history-based art and turns toward traditional visual art. Many of the installations featured here were commissioned by the city, some were commissioned by the private organizations and businesses where they were originally placed, but none of them call back to a specific event or person. Thus, many of them date to the recent past, and are not (yet) historic in a traditional National Register of Historic Places sense. In any case, the intent to place public art in the city helps showcase local and national artists, and gives art a place outside the museum.
The works featured in this tour are, in most cases, not designated landmarks listed in the DC Inventory of Historic Sites or National Register of Historic Places; while not recognized in this respect, they still provide major contributions to DC’s culture, telling stories through their design and placement. From local to internationally-recognized artists, their dedication to creating public artworks for the nation’s capital deserves recognition.
This tour is not meant to be an all-encompassing list of every outdoor abstract sculpture within the city - at its core, public art is hard to define and difficult to categorize. This tour does highlight many installations, but does not touch every medium or artistic movement. Additional resources on DC’s public art can be found at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities websites. These websites feature even more artwork including, but not limited to, sculpture. Additionally, with the exception of "Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, Ein Schauspiel, 3X," none of these sculptures belong to an art museum or gallery - this tour focuses on public artwork not commissioned by or donated by art institutions.
Because some of these sculptures were installed for specific companies or buildings, they may not always remain at their current locations. Many public works are relocated, removed, or placed within a museum at a later point in time. Despite these challenges, this tour hopes to provide insight into some of the city’s artwork, and to remind those exploring the city to keep an eye out for the public art around them.
Many of the sites featured in this tour were found through the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Art Inventories Catalog, and DCPL would like to thank them for creating and maintaining this resource.
DCPL would also like to recognize that much of the information provided on the individual sculptures listed here was found in James Goode’s Washington Sculpture: A Cultural History of Outdoor Sculpture in the Nation’s Capital.
This tour can be completed by walking, public transport, and/or car. Since the landmarks are spread out, it is advised that you map out your route to determine distance before beginning.
Smithsonian American Art Museum Art Inventories Catalog (Washington, DC): https://collections.si.edu/search/results.htm?date.slider=&q=&dsort=&fq=object_type%3A%22Outdoor+sculpture%22&fq=
DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities Public Art Collection: https://dcarts.emuseum.com/groups/public-art-collection/results