9 captivating outdoor art exhibitions around the UK to visit this autumn

From monumental bronzes to impossible tangles of colour, discover the best outdoor art the UK has to offer this season

This Autumn’s Must-See UK Outdoor Art and Sculpture

There are two things that never fail to lift our spirits and improve our mental health: spending time in nature and exploring a truly mind-blowing art exhibition. Combine the two and you’re on to a sure-fire winner – which is why we’ve created this comprehensive list of the best outdoor art exhibitions taking place around the UK this season. Whether you want to stumble upon an Emin in an Edinburgh beech grove, immerse yourself in kaleidoscopic colour in the Yorkshire Dales or confront the legacy of colonialism on a city-hopping tour,  these are the UK sculpture and outdoor art exhibitions to have on your radar.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Yorkshire

For a fun day out with art at the heart of it, it’s hard to beat the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Set in a beautiful, landscaped garden laid out in the 18th century, it was the first sculpture park in the UK, and is the largest of its kind in Europe.

Alongside permanent sculptures by world-leading artists, including bronzes by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, and site-specific works by Andy Goldsworthy and David Nash, YSP presents an exceptional temporary exhibitions programme, outdoors and across six indoor galleries. This autumn there are treats galore and, with work by Jaume Plensa and Lakwena Maciver going on display, ample reason for more than one trip up to ‘God’s Own Country’.

Until 30 October 2022
The Weston Gallery and Chapel

A number of sculptures by internationally renowned Catalan artist Jaume Plensa have been resident at YSP over the years. One that is particularly striking is Wilsis, which Plensa made in 2016. When seen from the front, Wilsis appears to be a realistic rendition of a head, yet from the side it is flattened into abstraction: the work is only revealed fully when you walk around the landscape; when you shift your point of view and contemplate the work from new perspectives.

Now, In small places, close to home, the focus is on Plensa’s drawing practice. Yet, in the current exhibition — displayed in The Weston Gallery and continuing into the 18th century chapel — a similar concern with thought, beauty, and contemplation is evident. Facing each other in the chapel’s nave are two marble sculptures of girls’ heads with closed eyes, seemingly in silent communion with each other.

Also shown for the very first time is April is the Cruellest Month (2020-21), a group of 28 drawings Plensa made during lockdown. Like a visual diary, together they offer an intimate view into the artist’s psychology during this unprecedented period and address our shared emotional reactions to the pandemic. Across both gallery spaces, and out into the landscape, Plensa’s work is meditative, resonating with the spiritual, expansive space they find themselves in.

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Jaume Plensa, In small places, close to home. Installation view at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, 2022. Photo © Jonty Wilde, courtesy Yorkshire Sculpture Park

12 November 2022 – 19 March 2023
The Weston Gallery

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Lakwena Maciver. Photography by Danika Magdalena

As the days draw in and get darker, YSP’s Weston Gallery will be transformed into a riot of colour, as an immersive solo exhibition of new painting and textile works by Lakwena Maciver goes on display in November.

Maciver is renowned for her bold and joyful site-specific artworks – her multi-coloured flags in Covent Garden, rainbow murals adorning Shoreditch walls, and wild stripes covering the roof of Temple station. This exhibition also looks fit to burst with optimism and delight, bringing messages of possibility and a utopian vision of redemption and liberation. Yet, Maciver’s work is also slyly subversive. In this show she has taken inspiration from the YSP’s history, particularly the 18th century ‘ha-ha’ – a concealed walled ditch that was built to stop livestock straying into the gardens without the need for visible fences. In Lakwena’s hands, the ha-ha becomes a metaphor for enclosure and private ownership, and for attacks on public space. And so, instead, a bank of vivid panels incessantly proclaiming the word ‘Ha-ha’ challenge the feature’s deliberate invisibility, making it impossible to ignore, and, in classic Lakwena fashion, making fun.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park, West Bretton, Wakefield WF4 4LG

Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh

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Charles Jencks, Cells of Life, 2005. Courtesy Jupiter Artland. Photography by Allan Pollok-Morris

Scotland’s 100-acre public sculpture park is home to one of the UK’s most remarkable contemporary art collections. Dotted around the estate on the outskirts of Edinburgh, 36 permanent works from leading international artists such as Phyllida Barlow and Anish Kapoor can be found, alongside an impressive programme of temporary outdoor art exhibitions. Open from May to September, the woody landscape provides the perfect alternative and antidote to the hectic rush of Edinburgh’s festive summer season.

Until 2 October

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Tracey Emin, I Lay Here for You, 2018 Bronze 147 x 638 x 285cm © Tracey Emin. All rights reserved, DACS 2020. Photo © Allan Pollok Morris. Courtesy Jupiter Artland

Nestled in a beech grove, a curled up figure made of bronze lies still on the soil earth. Its scale is both vast and, somehow, fragile – a dichotomy Tracey Emin has played with throughout her career. Hidden by the surrounding trees, the installation feels intimate and grounded, but there is also a distinct melancholy to the piece. This is appropriate, perhaps, as I lay here for you – the notorious YBA artist’s first Scottish show since 2008 – features brand new work by the artist reflecting on the possibility of love after hardship; the possibility of both protection and pain.

Jupiter Artland, The Steadings, Bonnington House, Wilkieston, Edinburgh EH27 8BY

Sainsbury Centre, Norfolk

Of course, the Sainsbury Centre is a more-than-decent place for a day of art and culture in itself, but, if you’re looking for something a bit more open to the elements, then it’s what surrounds the Centre that will interest you. Encompassing the award-winning Norman-Foster designed Sainsbury Centre building are 350 acres of parkland, full of outstanding works of outdoor art, by artists such as Henry Moore, Elisabeth Frink, Liliane Lijn and Antony Gormley. Totally free and open all-year round, it is a place where you can walk your dog, play with the kids, and have a profound experience with art. “This is a space where people can be a little bit more wild,” says Kate Dunton, Head of Learning at the Sainsbury Centre. Indeed, the whole place feels like a playground.

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Anthony Caro, Goodwood Steps, 1996

The Sculpture Park has recently welcomed a new, decidedly striking addition. Goodwood Steps (1996) by English abstract sculptor Anthony Caro is monumental, spanning over 33 metres in length and reaching over 3 metres in height. The work consists of seven stepped steel sections, joined by floor plates that form sweeping arcs. And really, what could be more suitable than a series of massive steps for a sculpture set a stone’s throw away from UEA’s iconic campus – another ziggurat on the horizon.

Sainsbury Centre, University of East Anglia, Norfolk Road, Norwich NR4 7TJ

The World Reimagined, Across the UK

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Ashley Shaw Scott Adjaye and Yinka Shonibare with a globe from The World Reimagined’s sculpture trail. Photography by Adama Jalloh

The World Reimagined is a ground-breaking, national art education project aiming to transform how we understand the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, its legacy and its impact on us all.

​​Host cities Birmingham, Bristol, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, London and Swansea are getting ready to transform their streets into public galleries. Each city will present up to ten giant globes individually painted on by commissioned artists, with the tenth globe designed by an artist in collaboration with community members local to the trail.

Artist Yinka Shonibare CBE chose the form for the artworks, as he believes the globe symbolises the relationship between Africa and the rest of the world, and presents an opportunity to reimagine the territory and legacy of colonialism. “If you start from the map and look at the relationship of Africa and the rest of the world,” Shonibare suggests, “you retrieve movements and moments from the past. You can’t understand the present, without understanding your past”.

Farley’s Sculpture Garden, East Sussex

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Cormorant 360 by Nic Acaster

The Sculpture Garden at Farley’s House, in Sussex, was designed by English surrealist painter, photographer and poet Roland Penrose – a man whose life, it has to be said, was closely entwined with the life of 20th-century contemporary art. One of the co-founders of the ICA, Penrose was first married to French surrealist poet Valentine Penrose née Boué, and later married to the renowned American photographer and photojournalist Lee Miller. Farley’s became Penrose and Miller’s home in 1949, and their son Antony Penrose is still its guardian.

So, there are illustrious roots to this garden. Picasso stayed in 1950, and Max Ernst, Joan Miro, Man Ray, and Leonora Carrington visited from overseas, while Eileen Agar, Kenneth Armitage, and Richard Hamilton popped down for weekends near the South Downs. And now, visitors can survey the almost-unchanged scenery and artwork that these famous figures once attended to – with Sussex’s rolling hills peeping across over Lee and Roland’s flower beds and sculptures by contemporary artists such as Julian Wild, Nic Acaster, Salvatore Cuschera and Peter Brooke-Ball, as well as permanently installed works by Heinz Henghes, Sylvester Mubayi, Roland Penrose,and Antony Penrose.

Farleys House & Gallery, Farley Farm, Muddles Green, Chiddingly, East Sussex, BN8 6HW

The Sculpture Park, Surrey

Surrey’s atmospheric sculpture park houses over 300 renowned and emerging artists, and showcases 650 modern and contemporary sculptures, all set within a valley fed by two natural springs, ten acres of arboretum and wildlife inhabited water gardens.

There are artworks of all kinds here, from abstract sculptures, to animal sculptures and sculptures made of bronze, steel and stone. It’s certainly a full-day bonanza for a family, and, if you spot a piece you really like, you might even be in luck, as most of the sculptures on display are for sale.

Corner of Jumps and Tilford Road, Churt, Farnham, Surrey GU10 2LB

Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, Cornwall

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Once, Cornwall’s Tremenheere was the hill that provided the monks of St Michael’s Mount with wine and vegetables. Now, the beautiful, sheltered valley still overlooks the Mount, but it is home to exotic planting instead of vegetables, as well as an evolving programme of contemporary artwork by internationally renowned artists instead of wine (although there might still be some of that available on site.)

As well as tricking you that you’re in a more exotic locale than the UK’s southernmost county,  Tremenheere is also a place for artistic play, with hands-on events and activities throughout the year. And, if that wasn’t enough to lure you south, there are outstanding displays peeking into various contemporary artists’ work and practices. Until the end of August, two of Britain’s most well-known abstract painters, Gillian Ayres and Howard Hodgkin, are being looked at anew as printmakers in an intimate exhibition on the upper floor of Tremenheere Gallery.

Tremenheere Sculpture Garden, Gulval, Penzance , Cornwall TR20 8YL

Folkestone Artworks, Kent

Whatever day you find yourself in Folkestone, you’ll find yourself welcome in the UK’s largest urban contemporary art exhibition. Folkestone Artworks is free and accessible 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But, you never know exactly what you might discover around the town and harbour, as the artworks change over the seasons.

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Cornelia Parker’s The Folkestone Mermaid

Currently, the display consists of 74 outdoor artworks by 46 artists – including Tracey Emin, Antony Gormley, Yoko Ono, Mark Wallinger, Cornelia Parker, Bill Woodrow, Michael Craig-Martin and Ian Hamilton Finlay. The artworks pop up in scenic and surprising locations, and, with only one or two exceptions, have been made with the specific site in mind. Cornelia Parker’s The Folkestone Mermaid, for example, brings a playfully international and mythological perspective to a local woman sitting on a rock, slap bang alongside other people on the beach doing similar. As Bob and Roberta Smith’s bold graffiti art installation outside Folkestone train station puts it: “Folkestone is an art school”.

Creative Folkestone, Quarterhouse, Mill Bay, Folkestone, Kent, CT20 1BN

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