Public Art That Will Haunt Your Nightmares
It was famed Polish-born writer Jerzy Kosinski who once said, "The principles of true art is not to portray, but to evoke." But what happens when the art in question evokes feelings of abject terror?
Take, for instance, the gigantic, wrinkly thumb poking out from a public square in Doha, Qatar. Or the larger-than-life sculpture in Bern, Switzerland, of a bloated beast eating bare-bottomed babies. Or a statue of what appears to be Mister Rogers as a brain-sucking zombie in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
We're not making any of this up. Across the globe, public art pieces make tourists shudder, some by design and others because of how thoroughly, disturbingly, sometimes hilariously bizarre they are.
Either way, we can all but guarantee that the following 30 pieces of art will terrorize your days and haunt your nights. Proceed with caution!
“The Kindlifresser” in Bern, Switzerland
Atop a fountain in Bern, Switzerland, you’ll find “The Kindlifresser,” which roughly translates to“child eater.” Yep, you read that correctly. One of Bern's oldest fountains is home to a sculpture of a pudgy ogre stuffing his face with a bare-bottomed baby.
“Cement Eclipses” in Belgium, Brussels
Artist Isaac Cordal's "Cement Eclipses" are arguably the easiest works of art to miss on the streets of Belgium. These tiny sculptures of vacant-faced men are discreetly located on everything from building facades and power lines to drainage pipes and walls. Their depressing mission? To emphasize the “solitude and isolation of modern times." Fun.
"Bad Bad Boy" in Helsinki, Finland
Move over Manneken Pis; there's a new kid in town. Standing roughly 28 feet tall, Finland's "Bad Bad Boy" is an alien-looking creature quietly sneaking a pee on the city's West Harbour. Bad boy indeed!
"Babies" in Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is home to several David Cerny sculptures, but the one that typically leaves tourists scratching their heads is called "Babies," a collection of enormous, muscular toddlers with deformed bar-code faces. They can be found crawling up Prague's Zizkov TV Tower and trolling through the city’s Kampa Park.
“This is a weird piece of public art,” mused one traveler on TripAdvisor. Well, yes.
"A Conversation with Oscar Wilde" in London, United Kingdom
Many can’t help but be horrified when they happen upon Maggi Hambling's ode to the famed Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. And considering the granite monument features Wilde's mangled head and perhaps what's left of his internal organs oozing out from a coffin, we can most definitely see why.
The creepy coffin doubles as a bench, should you really want to embrace the macabre.
"Quasi" in Wellington, New Zealand
In August 2019, a freakish-looking hand landed on the roof of Wellington's City Gallery in New Zealand. The hand, featuring a disturbingly realistic self-portrait of the artist Ronnie van Hout, attracted its fair share of Twitter critics. One user described "Quasi" as the "ugliest and most disturbing" piece of art she had ever seen, while another feared the five-fingered giant would one day jump off the roof and choke someone.
Thankfully, this has not happened. Yet.
Kumbakarna Laga in Bali's Bedugul Botanical Garden
Although he murdered monks and snacked on human flesh, Kumbhakarna, a character in the Hindu epic “Ramayana,” is memorialized in Bali's Bedugul Botanical Garden and described as pious and brave.
We absolutely respect his spiritual and cultural significance, while also acknowledging this statue of him is wild.
“The Ferryman's End” in County Wicklow, Ireland
Described as grotesque, creepy and bizarre, “The Ferryman,” one of the 14 statues living in Victor's Way Indian Sculpture Park, could easily land the lead role in a surrealist nightmare.
We'll keep our fingers crossed that he doesn't get cast in yours.
"The Awakening" in Prince George's County, Maryland
The hulking man featured in artist J. Seward Johnson, Jr.'s sculpture "The Awakening" has been trying his darndest to pull his massive body out of the ground in Maryland. (He's also appeared in Rome, as shown here.)
You can tell by the look on the giant’s anguished face that the task has been tough going. Which leaves us anxiously wondering: If or when he breaks free, what will this larger-than-life-sized man do?
"Fons Sapientiae” in Leuven, Belgium
The locals know and love him as Fonske, but everywhere else he goes by “Fons Sapientiae,” aka "Source of Wisdom." The sculpture, poised on top of a fountain, holds steady as a continuous stream of water splashes down on his, um, severed skull.
According to legend, the water is meant to represent an ever-flowing stream of knowledge, but local university students like to believe Fonske is showering his brain with beer.
The Mister Rogers Statue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Do you remember Mr. Rogers? That friendly guy who so badly wanted you to be his neighbor? Well, in 2009, six years after his passing, sculptor Robert Berks constructed a 7,000-pound, 11-foot monument in his memory. The piece is officially called “Tribute to Children.”
Sounds sweet, right?
Unfortunately, rather than depicting gentility and kindness, the towering bronze sculpture makes Mr. Rogers look like he clawed his way out of a grave.
Unless you want to shatter their precious innocence forever, do not bring your children here.
"Angel" in Melbourne, Australia
Made of steel and ceramic tiles, artist Deborah Halpern's "Angel" stands in Birrarung Marr park, looking anything but angelic.
The three-legged beast appears to be a cross between a dog, a dinosaur and...possibly a horse? Regardless, if we died and this came to guide us to the afterlife, we would not be feeling too good about our prospects.
"The Three Businessmen" in Melbourne, Australia
Three pin-thin, wrinkly faced, bug-eyed, life-sized businessmen can be found standing on Swanston Street in the heart of Melbourne. The piece's official title,"Three Businessmen Who Brought Their Own Lunch: Batman, Swanston, and Hoddle," sounds whimsical enough, but up close the figures resemble aimless, brain-craving zombies. Run!
"Hotel" in Melbourne, Australia
Also in Melbourne — surely the best place to go if you like your public art to be a little freaky — is Callum Morton's "Hotel," a model of a high rise sitting solo in an empty field. Forever vacant, passersby are often relieved when they realize this ominous hotel is only a piece of art and not open for reservations.
“The Blue Mustang” in Denver, Colorado
Nicknamed Blucifer, Denver Airport's “Blue Mustang” stands 32 feet tall, weighs 9,000 pounds and has flaming red eyes that pop out from his veiny, cobalt blue skin.
Interestingly, the demonic horse has only one murder on his rap sheet — that of his faithful creator, artist Luis Jiménez, who died after a section of the sculpture fell on him and severed an artery in his leg.
“The Thumb” in Doha, Qatar
What's creepy about an enormous, wrinkly thumb jutting out from a slab of concrete? How about everything?
If you'd like to see this bronze beast for yourself, it's located in Doha's historic heart in the city's Souq Waqif. Just be forewarned that it's probably not a good idea to challenge this guy to a thumb war.
The Statue Of Abbe Faria in Goa, India
Nineteenth-century monk and student of magnetism Abbe Faria gained notoriety for hypnotizing people, specifically women. And after he died, his talents earned him a memorial statue in Goa, India.
If you weren't up on Faria's backstory and you happened upon this monument, you'd probably be a bit alarmed to see a tall, cloaked figure dangling his arms over a woman who appears to be sedated. But don't worry: It’s just Faria doing what he apparently did best.
"The Pig and Snake" in Vancouver, Canada
When Toronto-based artist Tom Dean created "The Pig and Snake," he told the “Vancouver Courier” that the sculpture was meant "to explore paradise and mercy through a magical sculptural world of strange pairings where harmony exists but seems precarious."
Unfortunately, when his masterpiece landed in front of Vancouver's Kensington Library, his message was lost, and a vast majority of the public was revolted. Frankly, with all due respect to the artist’s vision, we can understand why: A thick python wrapped around the torso of a pig seems more horrifying than harmonious.
"Another Place" in Liverpool, United Kingdom
Spread out over a mile along Crosby Beach in Liverpool stand 100 life-sized, ghostly figures staring blankly out at the Irish Sea. When asked by the BBC to reveal the meaning behind the eerie installation, artist Antony Gormley described it as "a kind of acupuncture of the landscape, but also acupuncture of people's dreamworld."
Visitors, on the other hand, have had a mixed reaction. Some described the collection of rusted, weather-beaten figures as comforting, others as haunting and some as straight-up dystopian. We're inclined to agree with the latter.
Monument of Grant Privileges in Dusseldorf, Germany
Just try to sleep through the night after visiting this chipped-tooth warrior skeleton sculpture in Dusseldorf. We dare you.
"Zones of Immersion" in Toronto, Canada
Commuters are convinced that Toronto’s Union Station, Canada’s busiest transport hub, is haunted thanks to an art installation by Stuart Reid called "Zones of Immersion." The piece includes a series of enlarged black-and-white sketches of people who passersby have described as “sad, super depressed, terrifying, and creepy.” Which, to be fair, sounds like the people you usually see on public transit.
Transi de René de Chalon in Bar-le-Duc, France
Before he died in 1544, it seems Prince René de Chalon shared a bizarre request with his wife. Instead of being buried or memorialized in a traditional way, he wanted to be honored with "a life-size skeleton with strips of dried skin flapping over a hollow carcass, whose right-hand clutches at the empty rib cage while the left-hand holds high his heart in a grand gesture."
Today, the statue depicting René's skeleton stands in Saint-Étienne church in France. Alas, the Prince’s actual dried heart, once held in the statue’s hand, disappeared during the French Revolution.
"The Mothman" in Point Pleasant, West Virginia
According to legend, West Virginia's Mothman has been terrorizing the good people of Point Pleasant since the late 1960s. Locals describe the fanged beast as having a 10-foot pair of bat wings, bulging red eyes and an ear-piercing shriek. And when he's not spooking locals, Mothman spends his time snacking on farmers' dogs.
This statue of the monster caters to horror-loving tourists intrigued by the legend of Point Pleasant. The town also includes a Mothman museum and, but of course, sells Mothman merchandise.
Blood and Gore in Belgium, Brussels
An anonymous artist has taken street art in Brussels to a disturbing level. In recent years, two murals — one of a disemboweled body based on Jan de Baen’s "The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers," and another of a boy with a knife aimed at his throat based on Caravaggio's "Sacrifice of Isaac" — have mysteriously appeared on two public buildings.
While tourists have been intrigued by the city's new arrivals, locals have described the gory pieces to "The Daily Mail" as "hellish and awful," while parents report the images are terrorizing their children.
"The Kiss of Death" in Barcelona, Spain
One of the most famous marble statues in Barcelona's Poblenou Cemetery is the "Kiss of Death." According to legend, in the 1930s, the Llaudet family commissioned the piece in response to their son's untimely passing.
The sculpture features a winged skeleton, either administering the kiss of death or sucking the life out of the young man who sits limp and lifeless in the skeleton's arms. Spooky!
St. George’s Church in Luková, Czechia
Peek in the dusty windows of St. George's Church in Luková, Czechia and you'll find 30 faceless ghosts praying in its pews and halls. But don't worry, while many ghosts have a reputation for being moody and menacing, these spirits are just plaster sculptures made by artist Jakub Hadrava.
Still, when you see them under the Gothic church’s deliberately eerie lighting, you’re likely to feel more than a little spooked.
Statue of the Anonymous in Budapest, Hungary
There's a hooded figure lurking in Budapest's City Park. The locals know him as Anonymous, a historian who possibly served in King Béla III's court in the 12th century. While some consider the mysterious figure frightening, others believe Anonymous, given his profession, will bestow literary success upon anyone brave enough to touch him.
“The Hare” in Nuremberg, Germany
"The Hare," a sculpture by artist Albrecht Dürer, does not depict the cute and fluffy animal you'd find hopping alongside Disney's "Bambi." Instead, this half-slaughtered, golden-eyed creature would be perfect executing a jump scare in Stephen King's "Pet Sematary.”
"A-maze-ing Laughter" in Vancouver, Canada
When artist Yue Minjun created "A-maze-ing Laughter," 14 massive, bronze men laughing hysterically, he explained, "Making this series of sculptures was to use art to touch the heart of each visitor." He told the people of Vancouver, "I seem to have seen your smiling faces in my heart."
Many people genuinely adore these earnest sculptures. But the shirtless, shoeless giants also seem rather unhinged, making the whole thing feel vaguely unsettling.
Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park in Grenada
Listed as one of National Geographic's 25 Wonders of the World, Jason deCaires Taylor's Molinere Bay Underwater Sculpture Park is both mysterious and magical.
The exhibit, consisting of 75 human figures embedded in sand patches, is found 16 feet below the bay, making it accessible to scuba divers and snorkelers. The figures themselves are actually pretty cool, but the underwater scene takes on an eerie vibe when sea creatures, including sponges, algae, tunicates, sea urchins and fireworms, creep on the sculptures.