Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park – University Park, Illinois - Atlas Obscura
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University Park, Illinois

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

A sprawling museum filled with larger-than-life works of art. 

It’s certainly not small, but this sculpture park is definitely still a hidden treasure. Spread over 100 acres of sprawling prairie land, the space is filled with enormous, eye-catching work by some of art history’s greats.

Currently, 29 large-scale pieces by artists like Mark di Suvero, John Henry, Martin Puryear, Richard Hunt, Christine Tarkowski, and Mary Miss dot the landscape. You can find sculptures created by late-20th century American sculptures, artists based in the Chicago area, and artists from abroad.

A lot of the sculptures are abstract, and many are related to the natural landscape. A huge, slumped-over, Paul Bunyon-like figure is easily recognizable among the more interpretive shapes. The Martin Puryear piece Bodark Arc is an amazing land art piece that is unique in this important artist’s career.

Four of the sculptures were donated by the founder, Lewis Manilow, who with his father Nathan redeveloped University Park, a suburb then known as Forest Park South. The younger Manilow also helped found the Museum of Contemporary Art and was instrumental in the relocation of the Goodman Theater and the renovation of the Oriental and Palace theaters, all in Chicago. 

Wandering around the park, which basically feels like a giant open-air museum, is a leisurely experience. The paths are mostly grass so the park is ideal for an outdoor, artistic adventure in nature.

Know Before You Go

It is about 35 miles south of the Chicago Loop and can be accessed via interstate 57 or Metra Electric line; the first sculpture is only an 8 minute walk from the University Park station. There is also a shuttle to Governors State University's campus.Use the free app Otocast to do a self guided tour, map, additional photos of the works, and even recordings (often by the artist!) about each piece. It's open from dawn to dusk every day, but check GSU's website for building hours for access to bathrooms, cafeteria, etc.

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  • O'Donnell, Maureen. (December 12, 2017.) Lew Manilow Dies, Helped Found Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. Chicago Sun-Times.