Top 5: Public art

Public artworks can be found in all corners of the world, from giant, looming thumbs in Paris to community projects in Rio and underwater sculptures off Mexico.

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 30 Jul 2014, 11:00 BST, Updated 1 Jul 2021, 12:03 BST

01 Rio's favelas Brazil
This project, spearheaded by Dutch fundraisers Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, last year turned the Vila Cruzeiro favela into a public artwork, getting locals to paint their homes and businesses. In April, they returned to launch 'Back to Rio' in a bid to paint an entire favela.

02 Museo Subacuático de Arte Mexico
Slip on the snorkel and descend to this underwater museum, off the shores of Cancún. It comprises over 400 permanent sculptures dropped into the sea bed by sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. As well as being a breathtaking art project, the installation is also designed to promote the recovery of natural reefs in the area.

03 Angel of the North UK
Since spreading her 175ft-wide wings in 1998, Antony Gormley's Angel of the North has become one of the world's most-viewed artworks — seen by more than one person every second — and a North East icon. Crafted from over 200 tonnes of steel, she's said to be a symbol of our hopes and fears.

04 Le Pouce, France
This wrinkled thumb stands defiantly amid the gleaming skyscrapers and bland office buildings of La Défense, Paris's straight-laced business district. The work of French sculptor César Baldaccini, the 18-tonne masterpiece — pointing 40ft into the sky — is a scaled-up replica of his fingerprint.

05 Parc Güell Spain
In 1900, Count Eusebi Güell commissioned architect Antoni Gaudí to transform this green patch into a housing estate for the aristocracy. It's now a public garden, with a surreal, spired house and the sinuous Sala Hipóstila (the Hall of a Hundred Columns), where thick tree-like columns climb to the ceiling.

Published in the May 2014 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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