Explore Washington D.C.

Sculp-tour: Finding Abstract 3D Art in DC

Alongside the heroic statues and bronze horses, D.C. artists install their contemporary sculpture outdoors.

Civil War generals on horseback, Adam and Eve above a portal at Washington National Cathedral, presidents at their memorials, honored folks like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. beside the avenues…all reflect the impulse to tell meaningful stories with human figures in bronze or stone. 

But contemporary 3-D objects also mark the landscape, some alluding to history but many abstract and installed for visual delight alone. Encounters with both kinds of art happen on any summer stroll. What may surprise? Sculpture by Washington’s own artists, many of them with national reputations. 

The Ronald Reagan International Trade Center plaza  features the hammered bronze “Bearing Witness” by Washington-born, internationally known artist Martin Puryear. His work serves as focal point at this site hosting weekday lunchtime concerts, art “jams” and the alfresco tables of Aria Pizzeria. 

But local neighborhoods install works too. In Foggy Bottom, also home to the State Department and the Kennedy Center, residents sponsor a biennial, outdoor showcase of curated murals and sculpture. Now through October 25,  strollers with maps in hand (artsinfoggybottom.com) discover works by 15 artists installed on private properties. With “Building Aground,” a small-scale cityscape and overturned boat, Rachel Schmidt links Foggy Bottom’s maritime past to its present-day urban density. 

Mini-city in Foggy Bottom
Mini-city in Foggy Bottom (©Dakota Fine, Arts in Foggy Bottom)

Credit D.C. Commission for the Arts with placing sculpture like Wendy Ross’s “Transit” by the Washington Convention Center. At the southwest corner of 7th and M streets, Metro riders emerge beneath her aluminum spheres that shimmer by day, glow with LEDs by night and move in currents of air. Nature and mathematics inspire Ross, yet she also produced the figural bronze of George Mason at his memorial near the National Mall. Yes, D.C. sculptors gracefully defy expectations.  

Wendy Ross "Transit"
Wendy Ross "Transit" (©Jim Beirne)