Vacations are all about the photo op.
All that other stuff people say about travel—the importance of new experiences, the joy of discovery, the quest-like sensation of finding your way safely through an entirely new space—all that stuff pales in comparison to a good photo op.
We’re talking about the classics: It could be a beautiful overlook, a famous restaurant, or just a corner with really great lighting for your complexion. Or, as we’ve learned while researching this story, it could be a sculpture park filled with terrifying, faceless metal babies. You know, typical touristy stuff you come across while traveling.
Some artists take their sculptures to the next level and push the boundaries of the viewer’s comfort. After all, what’s the point of creating a massive piece of art if it’s not going to be talked about? Once you’ve seen one “normal” art installation, you’ve seen them all. So why not book a vacation to see some of these amazingly weird and frequently upsetting statues? Just be sure to keep that phone charged: You’re going to want selfies with these things.
1. Babies will be a terrifying theme here.
It will soon be abundantly clear that small children can be presented in an incredibly terrifying way. Actually, maybe that’s already clear; it’s probably why there are entire horror franchises that bank on creepy kids. Well, the “baby” sculptures at the Kampa Museum and elsewhere in Prague fit right into the this-child-is-the-devil genre.
The more you look at these hordes of crawling, faceless children, the more uneasy you feel. And that’s kind of the point. These crawling giants are the work of Czech sculptor David Černý. Some would say a lot of Černý’s work is controversial, but what’s the point of creating art if you aren’t going to ruffle a few feathers?
When asked about the drive behind his creations, Černý tells Urbo that creativity is obviously a big factor, plus, he says, “I don’t want to get bored.”
If you look up his other pieces, which are anything but boring, you will quickly see why some viewers might have issues with the artist. However, Černý sees controversy a positive thing.
This art “generates questions and invokes observers to look on things from a different perspective,” he says. If you ever find yourself in Prague, be sure to experience some of Černý’s work in person. And maybe skip the selfies on this one?
2. Sewer alligators are (sort of) real.
The claim that New York City’s sewers are chock-full of giant alligators is sadly just a myth. While there’s no dystopian reptile civilization living below the streets, though, there have been a handful of incidents involving (regular-sized) reptiles beneath the Big Apple.
On Feb. 9, 1935, a group of teenagers in East Harlem pulled a 125-pound alligator out of the sewer. When newspapers reported on the situation, they helped fuel the belief that legions of scaly predators were down there. However, odds are the Harlem Alligator was an isolated character, a refugee or intended “pet” from a steamer northbound from the Everglades, who had only been in the sewers for a short period of time.
New Yorkers are so enamored with their supposed underground alligator habitat, though, they sometimes long to bring it to life. Some people—like NYC artist Tom Otterness—go even further and bring the idea of Life Underground to a whole new level.
One of Otterness’ famous subway installations is an homage to the reptilian urban legend. If you visit the subway station at 8th and 14th street, you’ll find a bronze alligator crawling out of a NYC manhole, chomping on a business man with a bag of money for a head. You can’t get any more New York than that!
3. Remember what we said about babies?
Imagine you finally save up enough money and get to take the vacation of your dreams: Norway (first, please imagine that the vacation destination of your dreams is frosty Norway).
You’re in Oslo, walking around Frogner Park, enjoying the sights, when you notice something strange up ahead. As you walk closer you start to realize what it is—a small bronze statue of a very angry baby. You’re confused, yet amazed. You’ve just found Sinnataggen (and maybe you should have dreamed of vacation in Hawaii).
Sinnataggen, or “the angry boy,” is the creation of artist Gustav Vigeland. It can be found in the Vigeland Park, the world’s largest outdoor sculpture space created by a single artist. Here you can find over 200 installations, some of which might seem a little out of the ordinary.
Gustav Vigeland, who passed away in 1943, was a prolific Norwegian sculptor. His works often depict human figures engaged in intense social experiences. Some are happy lovers. Others, like “the angry boy,” express less positive emotions. None make good choices for a lighthearted selfie.
4. See above.
The angry boy isn’t the only Vigeland Park sculpture that raises eyebrows. The pieces in Vigeland Sculpture Park are all deeply emotional expressions of the human experience—some of which can be a bit shocking. Like Sinnataggen, there’s another incredibly popular sculpture that people sometimes back away from, ever so slowly, before turning to run.
The piece is called Man Chasing Four Geniuses in the questionable translation of the Vigeland Museum’s English language page (Atlas Obscura calls the piece Man Attacked by Babies, which also seems doubtful, especially when you consider that less established internet sources—like this guy on Flickr—say the true title is Man Attacked by Genii).
Anyway, lacking the Norwegian language skills to probe the mystery deeper, we’ll just call it Man Fighting Off a Hoard of Babies. It’s a favorite among the tourists who aren’t immediately offended.
If you ask us, there’s nothing better than this statue. Ever. It is a large, bronze statue of a grown man bursting forth from an attack of small children. Supposedly, the man is fighting off genii, or evil spirits. Why those spirits would be depicted as tiny babies, we don’t know, but it sure makes for a striking piece of art.
5. The heart of a prince is a little gross.
We always assumed that, back in the day, when artists wanted to memorialize a favorite royal, they’d build grandiose statues or hagiographic paintings. Usually, we’d be right—but not in the case with René de Chalon.
René de Chalon became the last Prince of Orange from the house of Chalon when his uncle Philibert lost his life in 1530. René took part in the Siege of St. Dizier in 1544, was mortally wounded, and passed away at the young age of 25. After the Prince was gone, his wife gave the orders (most likely the last wishes of René) that her husband not have any kind of heroic memorial made. Instead, a statue of a life-sized skeleton with tattered skin would be sculpted in René’s honor.
The Transi de René de Chalon is hauntingly beautiful. Carved out of a single piece of white stone, the skeletal figure stands with one hand on its chest, the other stretched to the sky, holding…something…in its palm. Slate reports that the prince’s actual dried heart rested in the hand of the statue for years, until it was stolen around the time of the French Revolution. Now it’s just a round stone.
Transi was a Renaissance art theme that emphasized the processes of life and decay. People were supposed to see it as a reminder that the body is merely a temporary vessel, and that you’d better get your heart right before meeting your maker. Um, and we don’t have to comment on the inappropriateness of a selfie with this one, do we?
6. Contemplate this.
In Wicklow, Ireland there’s a large park filled with the spiritual visions of Victor Langheld. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it? Well, these aren’t your run-of-the-mill metaphysical sculptures. Langheld traveled to India seeking enlightenment, and upon his return, he created a “contemplative garden for spiritually wobbly adults” who wanted a little help with their self-reflection. And Langheld’s representation of this process dips into the macabre.
The whole idea of the park, or Victor’s Way, is to represent the pathway to spiritual enlightenment. However, along that journey there are many difficulties, and Langheld doesn’t sugarcoat them in his art. There are 14 statues throughout the park, each one representing a different moment in the personal quest to find peace.
Awakening, or Birth of Consciousness, is one of the first statues you encounter. This piece shows a child emerging from a decaying, skeletal hand—representing the weight of reality. Further down the path you’ll find Separation. This depicts the separation of mother and child after birth, and the subsequent pain and joy that surrounds that process.
The Split Man statue is pretty much what it sounds like. It’s meant to depict the torn physical and mental state of a directionless adult state.
Anyway, not all of Langheld’s sculptures focus on the bleak. The park also includes many figures of Shiva, Ganesh, and the Nirvana Man, who celebrates the goal of enlightenment.
This park is for contemplation, not photo ops. We’re starting to think we were wrong about vacations and photo ops earlier.
When you’re enjoying a nice relaxing lap around a city lake, the last thing you expect to see is a giant woman bathing in the water. But that’s just what the residents of Hamburg experienced for 10 days back in 2011.
Artist Oliver Voss created a massive blonde woman and placed her in the Binnenalster Lake. The woman (known as The Bather) sat in the lake with her head and two knees exposed. She was 13 feet tall and made out of steel and styrofoam.
Voss’ giant bather did encounter some pushback. Before the woman was installed, the district mayor Markus Schreiber expressed his concerns, saying the Binnenalster is sacred and not just anything should be dropped into it. However, Voss saw his work as an homage to his city.
And we see all the sculptures on this list as homages to the weirdness of incarnate being. In fact, we’ve learned a lesson about vacations and obsessive selfie-taking. Sculptures like these encourage you to look, not act. Jeez, they might even teach you new ways of looking, which can wreak havoc on your selfie game; over-the-shoulder mirror shots just don’t have the same impact after a trip through Victor’s Way.