In a world of blockbuster art shows and museum selfies, there is a need for the kind of art experience that connects the viewer more authentically with a place. These seven artworks—some by the very same artists who draw crowds to those headline exhibitions—may be tricky to get to, but there is an experience gained in the journey that you can’t quite get from a trip to your local museum.
1. THE LIGHTNING FIELD // CATRON COUNTY, NEW MEXICO
One of Walter de Maria’s most significant pieces of land art, The Lightning Field, is also shrouded in mystery. The work’s exact location, somewhere in the high desert of western New Mexico, is a tightly held secret. To get there, you have to make a reservation through the Dia Art Foundation, which maintains the site. In the tiny town of Quemado (about three hours from Albuquerque) you’ll be met by an employee who drives you 45 minutes to the site, where a simple cabin is set up to spend the night. No electronic devices are allowed, so that means no Instagramming. Visitors are instead encouraged to fully connect with the experience and to spend as much time as possible at the epic, shifting installation—particularly around sunset and sunrise, when golden light briefly reflects off the grid of 400 polished stainless steel poles.
Antony Gormley's work is committed to the exploration of the body and place and is usually based on metal casts of his own body. For Inside Australia, which is made up of 51 sculptures spread across the flat surface of (the usually dry) Lake Ballard, Gormley instead scanned the figures of residents of Menzies, the closest town to the installation site, 30 miles away. Menzies is about a two-hour drive from Kalgoorlie-Boulder, and 500 miles from Perth, however it’s common for the road to be closed following heavy rainfall. Visitors driving to the site also have to look out for “wandering livestock and wildlife.” Once there, you can camp freely at Lake Ballard, but must bring your own water and firewood.
3. NIMIS // HÖGANÄS, SWEDEN
Photo by Håkan Dahlström/Flickr
Lars Vilks is no stranger to controversy; the Swedish artist has had a bounty on his head since he depicted Muhammad as a dog in 2007 and survived an assassination attempt in Copenhagen last year, which left one person dead. Before all this, Vilks declared the founding of the micronation of Ladonia in southern Sweden’s Kullaberg Nature Reserve to house his two huge unsanctioned art pieces, which the local council had threatened with removal. While becoming a citizen of Ladonia is easy (you just fill out an application form), visiting the two sculptures of Nimis, made from salvaged driftwood, and the stone Arx is a little trickier. From the Himmelstorps Hembygdsgård, a preserved 19th-century farmhouse inside the reserve, you follow occasional yellow arrows and Ns painted on trees, winding through the woods and up some steep climbs for around 30 minutes … or more if you get lost.
4. PRADA MARFA // VALENTINE, TEXAS
Veronique Dupont/AFP/Getty Images
This incongruous Prada storefront seen along a dusty road 26 miles northwest of Marfa (itself a three-hour drive from the nearest airport in El Paso) is, in fact, an art installation by Elmgreen & Dragset. The piece was installed in 2005 and, even though Prada licensed the use of its trademark and provided items from its collection, is generally interpreted as a critique of consumerism. Admittedly, it’s difficult to really use the term "remote" in reference to an installation that has been Instagrammed infinite times and Tumbl’d by Beyoncé, but getting to Prada Marfa requires just enough effort to make it count.
5. PUMPKIN // NAOSHIMA, JAPAN
Photo by cotaro70s/Flickr
In the last 15 or so years, the sleepy island of Naoshima in Japan's Seto Inland Sea has reinvented itself from a declining fishing community to a center for contemporary art and home to the Setouchi Triennale. Installations around the island include old homes that have been converted into art sites after being abandoned by the disappearing local population, a public bathhouse decorated with kitschy objects culled from the designer's world travels, and two large pumpkin sculptures by the Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. From Uno, in Okayama Prefecture, around two hours by train from Osaka, you can take a slow ferry across the sea to Naoshima, whose slow pace seems a world away from Japan’s frenetic mega cities. When you arrive, you can rent a bicycle to explore the installations dotted around the island.
6. THE STEILNESET MEMORIAL // VARDØ, NORWAY
Pierre-Henry Deshayes/AFP/Getty Images
It’s a long, lonely trek into the Norwegian Arctic, to the very end of the pan-European road E75, to find this piece. It is a collaboration between the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and French-American sculptor Louise Bourgeois (in what would be her final work) and memorializes the 91 women, girls, and Sámi men burned at the stake, on suspicion of witchcraft, 300 years ago. The breathtaking piece comprises a 410-foot-long Memorial Hall, at the end of which a steel-and-smoked-glass room, named The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved, houses a circle of mirrors reflecting a flaming steel chair.
7. SPIRAL JETTY // GREAT SALT LAKE, UTAH
, a 1500-foot-long and 15-foot-wide coil that juts out from Utah’s Great Salt Lake, was inscribed into art infamy when, just two years after it was created, it disappeared underwater. A year later its creator, Robert Smithson, died at the age of 35, in a helicopter crash.
The water levels at Great Salt Lake had been unusually low in 1970 when Smithson created the work and so it vanished when they returned to their normal levels. Spiral Jetty reappeared in 1999, covered in salt crystals and its black color now improbably shining white. The piece still vanishes from time to time. Dia Art Foundation, which manages the site, states that it is visible when water levels are below approximately 4195 feet and advises bringing water, food, and waterproof boots, along with weather-appropriate clothing, when making the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Salt Lake City.