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Unusual Art, Unusual Places

What to do when your destination is far from anyone’s travel agenda, due to geographic isolation, economic challenges or just a dearth of tourist-worthy attractions? In the case of these 7 spots, you team up with imaginative artists to put your location, however far-flung, squarely on the travel map.

Rauma, Norway
Norway’s fjords and mountains make driving a bit of a hassle. To amp things up, the government commissioned artists, architects and landscape designers to create pedestrian bridges and lookouts along 18 scenic byways. Six routes are currently open; the other 12 by 2020. The most impressive: the overlook at Trollstigen, where a steel walkway juts out over the thousand-foot-tall Stigfossen waterfall and the 11 hairpin switchbacks of the road to the valley below.

Island, Newfoundland, Canada 
This remote spot is the last outcropping of land before Greenland. When the cod fishery collapsed here in the 1990s, the economy did too. Now Fogo native and fiber-optics giant Zita Cobb has invested $10 million (plus matching government funds) to turn Fogo into an art mecca. Art studios have opened up across the island, designed by Todd Saunders, who combined elements of clapboard fishermen’s homes with a modern Scandinavian look. A residency program sponsors artists, and a new hotel accommodates art pilgrims.

Naoshima, Japan
This island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is an exhibit in itself. Tadao Ando fused art, architecture and nature in his designs for the Benesse House museum and the Chichu Art Museum, which show works by Monet, Warhol and James Turrell. But these are only starting points on an island with art at every turn, from the Art House Projects (historic homes turned into galleries) to the “I ♥ Yu” Naoshima Bathhouse (yu means “hot water”)—a modern gallery combined with a traditional Japanese bath.

Lake Ballard, Western Australia
More than 50 black-steel human figures rise out of the desert here, installed over 4 square miles in one of the planet’s most desolate environments. The artist, Antony Gormley, is known for his “Event Horizon” installations that put figures on rooftop edges in London and New York City, giving passersby the unsettling impression that people were about to leap to their death. There’s no controversy in this exhibit, which dates to 2001, but the remoteness alone makes it powerful. After a 40-minute drive from the town of Menzies, visitors approach the statues by walking across the dry lakebed. Go in early morning or late afternoon to avoid the brutal sun.

New Orleans, LA 
Airline Drive lies at the end of Highway 61, aka The Blues Highway. Like the music, its heyday is long gone, and a stretch of run-down motels is the first impression visitors get when driving from the airport to downtown. So painter Jack Niven convinced the London Lodge Motel to let him place a billboard-size painting on its exterior. Then he enlisted seven other artists to interpret American beauty and display their work on motel walls, freely visible to drivers who would otherwise see no reason to slow down. 

Cancún, Mexico
Made up of 400 eerie human figures on the ocean floor, from a young boy to an aged nun, “The Silent Evolution” is displayed under 30 feet of water. The hope is that it will divert some of the 750,000 scuba divers who annually explore Cancún’s damaged coral reefs. Mexico-based sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor crafted the statues from a marine cement that encourages coral growth, providing homes for countless fish, algae and plants.

Camelon, Scotland
This one-of-a-kind rotating boat lift was built in 2002 to connect Scotland’s Union Canal to the Forth & Clyde Canal. The 79-foot difference in elevation between the waterways had previously been managed by a series of 11 locks, but these were abandoned in the 1930s. Now, thanks to funding from the U.K.’s Millennium Commission, British Waterways has reestablished a water link between Edinburgh and Glasgow, and created a modern technological wonder at the same time. The lift’s arms are modeled after a Celtic double-headed axe, and the design is so efficient that raising a 600-ton boat uses the same amount of energy as boiling a large pot of water. Visitors can watch from an observation deck or take their own 60-minute boat trip through the wheel.

NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.