Here’s The Story Behind The Strange Ghost Sculptures In The Nevada Desert

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If you’ve ever visited the ghost town of Rhyolite on the eastern edge of Death Valley National Park, you probably noticed there’s something a bit strange about this region of the desert. Adjacent to the ghost town remains is a funky and free sculpture park called the Goldwell Open Air Museum. The outdoor attraction features bizarre statues and sculptures, most notably a piece known as “The Last Supper.”  Read on if you’ve ever seen these ghost-like sculptures in the desert and wondered “Why?”

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Have you been to Goldwell Open Air Museum? What’s your favorite art piece at this quirky desert attraction? Let us know in the comments below!

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Ghosts, ghouls and spectres: hauntingly good art

Posted 31 Oct 2022, by Andrew Shore

The Haunted House

The Haunted House

unknown artist

Bertalda Frightened by Apparitions

Bertalda Frightened by Apparitions

Theodor Matthias von Holst (1810–1844)

The Haunted Wood

The Haunted Wood 1856

Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal (1829–1862)

The Haunted Château, Grez-sur-Loing 1896

David Gauld (1867–1936)

Ghost Train, Monsters

Ghost Train, Monsters late 1970s

Richard Carter

What do we mean by 'ghost'? The word was once commonly used to refer to the third part of the Christian Trinity – the Holy Ghost. This was often depicted in art as a dove, or tongues of fire, or rays.

Pentecost

Pentecost about 1306-12

Giotto di Bondone (1266/1267–1337) (attributed to)

That religious usage in English is largely now replaced with 'spirit' (from the Latin 'spiritus'), as the word 'ghost' has come to mean the disembodied manifestation of a deceased person (or animal).

Over time, artists have rendered ghosts, spooks, spectres, ghouls, apparitions and wraiths in a variety of ways.

A famous example is the ghost of Hamlet's father (also called Hamlet).

John Henderson as Hamlet in the Ghost Scene of 'Hamlet'

John Henderson as Hamlet in the Ghost Scene of 'Hamlet' 1775

The character has been brought to life (well, not life...) on stage in different ways, and artists have captured that scene too – some faithfully rendering what was on stage, and others with a more cinematic approach.

Hamlet and the Ghost

Hamlet and the Ghost 1901

Frederick James Shields (1833–1911)

If you wanted a wildly original take on things in the Romantic period, you could always rely on the ever-quirky William Blake. His painting The Ghost of a Flea is just that – the literal ghost of a flea.

The Ghost of a Flea

The Ghost of a Flea c.1819–20

William Blake (1757–1827)

It is part of a series of 'Visionary Heads' commissioned by the watercolourist and astrologist John Varley (1778–1842). Blake and Varley would get together and conduct seances, and the flea apparently appeared to them at one of these sessions. Varley was unable to see the spirits conjured, so Blake drew them...

Ghosts also represented the ever-present spectre of disease in times gone by.

A Ghostly Skeleton Trying to Strangle a Sick Child; Representing Diphtheria

A Ghostly Skeleton Trying to Strangle a Sick Child; Representing Diphtheria

Richard Tennant Cooper (1885–1957)

From diphtheria to tuberculosis, the Wellcome Collection has a few notable examples.

A Sickly Young Woman Sits Covered Up on a Balcony; Death, a Ghostly Skeleton Clutching a Scythe and an Hourglass, Is Standing Next to Her; Representing Tuberculosis

A Sickly Young Woman Sits Covered Up on a Balcony; Death, a Ghostly Skeleton Clutching a Scythe and an Hourglass, Is Standing Next to Her; Representing Tuberculosis 1912 (?)

The very real horrors of the First World War were responsible for a rise in sightings of the supernatural. Long-suffering troops, many of whom were under the stress and strain of shell shock and what we would today call PTSD, regularly reported seeing ghosts of former comrades killed in action.

Soldiers Marching Past Ruined Farm Buildings, Haunted by the Ghost of a Comrade, Western Front

Soldiers Marching Past Ruined Farm Buildings, Haunted by the Ghost of a Comrade, Western Front c.1918

Cecil Constant Philip Lawson (1880–1967)

Some of these sightings can be attributed to a fictional short story published in the  Evening News  in September 1914, in which English bowmen killed at the Battle of Agincourt (1415) rose up to defend their countrymen in the contemporary conflict.

Backs to the Wall, 1918

Backs to the Wall, 1918 1929

Robert Gibb (1845–1932)

Ghost stories told in literature have been perennially popular, and similarly artists have periodically taken it upon themselves to depict haunted places, often with a sense of Gothic foreboding.

Georg Emil Libert (1820–1908) was born in Copenhagen, and worked across southern Germany and Austria. This painting is a fine example of the Romantic imagery which developed in Northern Europe in the nineteenth century.

Snow Scene: The Haunted House

Snow Scene: The Haunted House 1847

Georg Emil Libert (1820–1908)

It shows a frozen river where three boys play and an austere (supposedly haunted) manor in the middle distance. Dated 1847, the work was made shortly after Libert went to Munich where he met a group of Romantic painters under the influence of Caspar David Friedrich  (whose only work in the UK is a haunting winter landscape at The National Gallery).

James Ferrier Pryde was a painter and designer, as well as being the brother-in-law of (the much more famous) artist William Nicholson . He is best known for dramatic and sinister architectural views, with figures dwarfed by their gloomy surroundings. The title of this work doesn't leave the interpretation to the viewer – it's a haunted house, so those figures in the windows may well be the ghosts about to haunt you.

The Haunted House

James Ferrier Pryde (1866–1941)

Alfred Munnings created a vast body of work and the majority of his paintings were of horses and horseracing. It seems as if he dabbled in haunted things occasionally, however.

This painting was originally titled In the Room: A Problem Picture .

The Haunted Room, Painted at a Farmhouse on Exmoor

The Haunted Room, Painted at a Farmhouse on Exmoor

Alfred James Munnings (1878–1959)

When it was displayed at the Royal Academy in 1952 it caused quite a stir amongst the public and press as it was so unlike any other painting ever exhibited by Munnings. The artist stated that he just let the painting develop as the fancy took him – initially focusing on just the figure in the bed, shown in this study.

Study for 'The Haunted House'

Study for 'The Haunted House'

He later decided that the picture needed a ghost. When asked about the narrative he was rather vague: 'maybe' the man on the ground had run the ghost through in a duel.

Study for 'The Haunted House'

The actual bed in the painting is real and was reputed to have had a sinister past, coming from Littlecote Hall, Wiltshire, where Wild Will Darell murdered a baby and was convicted on evidence which included a piece of cloth from the bed.

It wasn't Munnings' only foray into the supernatural. The subject for this painting may have been inspired by a poem written by Robert Burns.

The Haunted Mere

The Haunted Mere 1896

Munnings described the composition in his autobiography as: 'a country couple, staring in the moonlight at a female phantom with outstretched arms, and a lovely head thrown back, appealing to the stars, her white robes trailing on the still water reflecting her luminous figure and the sickle moon.'

Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908–1997), for many years professor of painting at the Royal College of Art in London, always said that he had a lonely childhood which was full of dreams of ghosts – that sense, of the supernatural in the everyday, is apparent in many of his paintings. However, his 1980 Ghost in Garden is a straightforward example of an artist literally painting a ghost.

Ghost in Garden 1980

Carel Victor Morlais Weight (1908–1997)

There's no explanation as to why it's there, or what it represents, and perhaps that makes it all the more impactful – apparitions are unexplained phenomena and the painting reflects that.

An unusual idea of the souls of the dead being all around us, this painting shows local archaeologist (and artist) James Bentley digging up late medieval and early post-medieval pots at Brookhill in Buckley, a town in Flintshire in North Wales.

'Look, he's digging up our pots'

'Look, he's digging up our pots'

James Bentley (1921–2004)

Surrounding him is a group of ghosts of seemingly benevolent potters – the ones who made the pottery in the first place, long dead but still interested in what's happening to their works.

A truly unsettling image is this sculpture by Finnish artist Kim Simonsson , titled simply Ghost .

Ghost

Kim Simonsson (b.1974)

Made of glazed stoneware, the white skin and unseeing eyes of the creepy child evoke horror movies and the uncanny. As a quote on his own website from fellow artist Johan Sjöström says: 'His sculptures in glazed stoneware operate on both sides of the threshold of consciousness. These physical objects have a strangely timeless quality, as if they were quiet representatives of a detailed but unknown borderland.' I hope nobody's reading this just before bed.

Although in art spooks and spectres have been largely allegorical, this example of trick photography (a double exposure) shows that quite often it turns out to be just some guy messing about in a sheet!

A Spectre

A Spectre (from an album of doppelgängers and spectres, early 1900s) early 1900s

And he would have gotten away with it if it weren't for us meddling art lovers...

Andrew Shore, Head of Content at Art UK

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A couple dances while a string band plays music

Connections: Contemporary Craft at the Renwick Gallery , 2019

ghost art statue

Copied Wendell Castle, Ghost Clock , 1985, bleached Honduras mahogany, 86   1 ⁄ 4 x  24   1 ⁄ 2 x  15  in. ( 219 . 0 x  62 . 2 x  38 . 1  cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Museum purchase through the Smithsonian Institution Collections Acquisition Program, 1989.68, © 1985, Wendell Castle

This media is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian.

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White Ghost

White Ghost

Nara, who often uses dogs and children as subjects in his work, has uniquely combined the two for “White Ghost.” The sculptures are glossy white fiberglass, and sit on rough stone-like bases, referencing how artifacts and monuments from the past often appear in museums. By presenting the sculptures in such a way, he considers the future ruins of his own work, and ultimately his own mortality.

Fundraising for 'The Ghost of Roseland' heats up

ghost art statue

CANANDAIGUA – It’s getting to be that time of year when longtime Canandaigua residents' memories turn to the magic that once was Roseland Park . 

The amusement park on Canandaigua Lake operated from 1925 until 1985, providing all sorts of fun times for youngsters and their families as well as jobs for people like former Canandaigua Mayor Ellen Polimeni. 

Polimeni was just out of college and about to start a career in education in Canandaigua schools when she took a summer job working a lunch counter near the lake's waters. 

Roseland Park: It was the 'Playground of the Finger Lakes'. Now it's gone

“People are thrilled and have many fond memories of Roseland,” Polimeni said, including those, like her, who are on a committee to bring a small piece of the amusement park back to Canandaigua. That includes fellow committee member Eli Bowen, who didn't work there but had fun there.

"I spent a lot of time there as a kid," Bowen said. "Mostly playing pinball."

Fundraising efforts for public art that pays tribute to the amusement park are picking up steam as the weather warms. The goal is to transform a weathered, unused concrete stanchion to a unique artwork.

The Ghost of Roseland

The Ghost of Roseland, as artist Benji Carr calls it, will be a stainless-steel structure that uses hydraulics to power a miniature Ferris wheel, roller coaster and replicas of two other Roseland Park rides. 

Each of the mini rides will be able to move slowly. 

The artwork will be placed on the stanchion that some believe is an eyesore but once supported a Roseland favorite ride, the Satellite, which carried riders out over the water. The stanchion can be seen just off the shore of Lakefront Park in Canandaigua. Another stanchion is used by the Canandaigua Lady ticket office. 

Here’s what Carr had to say about the idea earlier in the year, after Canandaigua City Council gave its support for the project. 

“Like most people, Roseland brought a lot of joy and it’s just … gone. It didn’t get the recognition that it deserves,” Carr said. “This park didn’t get any thanks for that and I think it needs a monument in itself.”   

Carr, whose studio is in Cohocton, also created another visible public art sculpture in Ontario County. The Denizen is an 18-foot-tall metal dandelion in front of the Cobblestone Arts Center in Farmington. 

Fundraising continues for this public artwork

The hope is the project will be done sometime in 2024. 

Fundraising efforts to make it happen will continue through July, Polimeni said. 

“We’re hoping that people who come to visit this summer will be interested in helping this become a reality also,” Polimeni said. “We’re anxious to get our process underway.” 

For those looking to contribute, mail a check to Lakeside Sculpture, P.O. Box 449, Canandaigua, NY 14424, or visit Finger Lakes Area Community Endowment at https://www.cnbank.com/flace/ https://www.cnbank.com/flace/ and choose “Ghost of Roseland Sculpture.” 

For details on the progress, visit www.VisitFingerLakes.com/revive-our-history/ .

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Ghost net art

Learn how aboriginal communities and artists are using ghost net sculptures as a way to tell traditional stories..

  • Updated 26/05/20
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Ghost nets, or fishing nets abandoned or lost at sea, pose a massive threat to marine life and birds.

Fish and turtles, as well as larger animals such as dolphins and sharks, are often discovered entangled in the net, many of which have been killed. Net can travel over extremely long distances with the currents and tides, and lengths of net more that 6km in size have been found off northern Australia.

Net is collected from the beaches by rangers, and recorded and identified (if possible) before being passed on to various communities. While some nets originate from Australian fishing boats, much of the ghost net that is discovered in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Torres Strait originates from south-east Asia, including the Philippines, Singapore and Indonesia. The thickness, colour and size of the net can often identify where the net originated.

Several Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are now turning these destructive materials into works of art, which are raising awareness for this terrible issue, and reflect the struggle that communities face in protecting the marine environment. While nets were once either simply dumped or burned after being retrieved, the varying kinds of net are now viewed in a different light. Some kinds of net are particularly desired by artists for their colour and physical qualities, and are turned into stunning sculptural works of art, as well as smaller items.

Collection highlights

Ghost net art: Work nears completion

Ghost Net Art from Darnley Island (Erub)

The museum has several works in our collection which are wonderful examples of how environmentally destructive materials are being recycled into amazing works of art.

Ghost net art, Simon Norman Barramundi - E095706

Ghost Net Art from Pormpuraaw

Artists at the Pormpuraaw Art & Cultural Centre are using ghost net sculptures as a way to tell traditional stories.

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Photo of two painted shields

The Australian Museum respects and acknowledges the Gadigal people as the First Peoples and Traditional Custodians of the land and waterways on which the Museum stands.

Image credit: gadigal yilimung (shield) made by Uncle Charles  Chicka  Madden

Great Stair Hall Balcony, third floor

Main Building

Born in Philadelphia, Calder was third in a line of distinguished sculptors from this city. The Swann Fountain in Logan Circle was created in 1924 by his father, Alexander Stirling Calder (1870–1945). On top of City Hall is the thirty-six-foot-high statue of William Penn by Calder’s grandfather, Alexander Milne Calder (1846–1923), who also designed all the stone sculptural ornament for the City Hall building.

We are always open to learning more about our collections and updating the website. Does this record contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? Contact us here .

Please note that this particular artwork might not be on view when you visit. Don’t worry—we have plenty of exhibitions for you to explore.

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Halloween Ornament, Faceless Ghost Sculpture, Ghoul Ghost Resin Sculpture Decoration, White Resin Hell's Messenger with Lantern Candle Light, Ghost Art Statue Landscape Lawn Figurine,Black,LED light

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Tara Donovan, Untitled (Mylar), 2011/2018. Installation view, MCA Denver. Photo: Christopher Burke. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery.

11 London art exhibitions we can’t wait to see in 2024

From Van Gogh to Yoko Ono, 2024’s got it all

Eddy Frankel

Modernist sculpture, feminist installations, Renaissance drama, kids games,  Chicago  and a whole bunch of  Bacon : 2024 is going to have a little bit of everything, something for everyone, as long as everyone really likes paintings.

It’s not shaping up to be a brilliant year for forward-thinking immersiveness or mind-bending conceptualism, but who needs that stuff when you've got Caravaggio to look forward to?  T here’ll  be countless interesting shows at London ’s smaller galleries to dig your eyes into – these are the big blockbusters, the major museum shows that we should all have on our hit list. 

The  best London art exhibitions to look forward to this year

Barbara Kruger; BARBARA KRUGER: THINKING OF YOU, I MEAN ME, I MEAN YOU Installation view, The Art Institute of Chicago - AIC, Chicago, September 19, 2021–January 24, 2022 Courtesy the artist and Sprüth Magers Photo: The Art Institute of Chicago

Barbara Kruger

The Serpentine is kicking off 2024 with a celebration of one of the most direct, confrontational, simple, effective artists ever. Barbara Kruger’s combination of bold image and bold text has made the American’s work instantly recognisable and hugely influential. This show will see past pieces reconfigured as video works and mashed together with soundscapes to create a totally immersive way to experience her art. 

Barbara Kruger is at the Serpentine, Feb 1-Mar 17 2024. Free. More details here . 

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Mylar), 2011/2018. Installation view, MCA Denver. Photo: Christopher Burke. Courtesy the artist and Pace Gallery.

‘When Form Comes Alive: 60 Years of Restless Sculpture’

Wibbly, wobbly, lumpy and bumpy; the Hayward’s first show of the year will be all about organic forms in sculpture. We’re talking fluidity, curviness, blobbiness and tactility in the work of artists like Franz West, Phyllida Barlow, Holly Hendry and Eva Fàbregas. This big, ultra-focused group show approach is often what the Hayward does best. Prepare for ‘promiscuously proliferating’ sculptures about ‘the poetics of gravity’, whatever that means. 

‘The Life Forms’ is at the Hayward Gallery, Feb 7-May 6 2024. More details here . 

. All images © the artist, courtesy of Frankie Rossi Art Projects, London

Frank Auerbach: ‘The Charcoal Heads’

Frank Auerbach, a head honcho of the ‘School of London’ movement alongside folk like Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud, is considered one of the most important artists of twentieth century Britain – and he’s still alive today, pumping out gorgeous, vital art. His small show of new self-portraits at Hazlitt Holland-Hibbert last year proved that he’s still got it, but this Courtauld exhibition will look back at some charcoal portraits from the 1950s and ’60s which are considered ‘some of his early masterpieces.’

Frank Auerbach: ‘The Charcoal Heads’ is at the Courtauld Gallery, Feb 9-May 27. More details here .

Yoko Ono with Glass Hammer 1967 from HALF-A-WIND SHOW, Lisson Gallery, London, 1967. Photograph Clay Perry © Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono: ‘Music of the Mind’

Ono’s fame is so huge, her name so ubiquitous, that it has almost totally eclipsed the fact that she’s a leading experimental artist in her field. She’s worked in performance, film and drawing, she was part of Fluxus, she’s made music and she’s fought for peace. She is, in other words, totally legit and totally overlooked. Her work is always radical, always earnest, and often quite silly. What more could you want? 

Yoko Ono is at Tate Modern, Feb 15-Sep 1 2024. More details here . 

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula, 1610, © Archivio Patrimonio Artistico Intesa Sanpaolo / foto Luciano Pedicini, Napoli

‘The Last Caravaggio’ 

Caravaggio was the most dramatic of all Renaissance painters, both in his work (darkness! shadow! light!) and life (murder! revenge! syphilis!). In his final years he produced his most dramatic works. This small, free display focuses on what is possibly his last painting, ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Ursula’ on loan from Italy, and it’s full of death, violence, blood and darkness. Genuinely can’t wait. 

‘The Last Caravaggio’ is at the National Gallery, Apr 18-Jul 21. Free. More details here . 

Judy Chicago, © Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; Photo © Donald Woodman/ARS, NY

Judy Chicago: ‘Revelations’

Few artists are as deserving of the title ‘icon’ as Judy Chicago; she’s spent her career quite literally blazing a trail (no, literally, there’s been a lot of smoke and fire in her art) for feminist art, creating works filled with trippy swirling colours, clever conceptual installations and hefty amounts of righteous ire. Somehow, this is her first solo show at a major London institution. 

Judy Chicago is at the Serpentine, May 22-Sep 1 2024. Free. More details  here .

Zanele Muholi 'Ntozakhe II, Parktown' (2016) Image courtesy of the artist and Stevenson Gallery © Zanele Muholi

Zanele Muholi 

This mid-career survey of South African visual activist Zanele Muholi captures the breadth and power of an extensive body of work dedicated to presenting a multifaceted view of Black LGBTQI+ individuals. This show originally opened near the start of the pandemic, and has now been expanded with more recent work, all tackling big important themes like labour, racism, sexism and sexual politics.

Zanele Muholi is at Tate Modern, Jun 6 2024-Jan 26 2025. More details here . 

4. Francis Alÿs Children’s Game 14, Piedra, papel o tijera, Mexico City, Mexico, 2013 In collaboration with Julien Devaux and Félix Blume Courtesy of the artist2

Francis Alÿs

He’s pushed a block of ice across Mexico City, kicked a flaming football, painted a line across Palestine and moved a mountain: Belgian artist Francis Alÿs goes for big gestures to make big points. He’s one of the most affecting and recognisable conceptual artists working today, and now he’s taking over the Barbican for an exhibition about children’s games in all their different forms around the world. 

Francis Alys is at the Barbican, Jun 27-Sep 1 2024. More details here . 

Vincent Van Gogh, Starry Night, 1888; © Musée d’Orsay

Van Gogh: ‘Poets and Lovers’

If you pronounce it like an American, it’s time to Van Gogh crazy and if you pronounce it like the Dutch, then you’re going to need some Van Gogh syrup, because everyone’s going to absolutely lose it for Vincent this autumn. The National Gallery is going big on one of art history’s megastars, and they are not holding back. ‘Starry Night’? Got it. ‘The Yellow House’? It’s in here. Big hits, big ticket prices: welcome to 2024’s biggest blockbuster exhibition. 

‘Van Gogh: Poets and Lovers’ is at the National Gallery, Sep 14 2024-Jan 19 2025. More details here . 

Mike Kelley, Ahh...Youth! 1991. © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / VAGA at ARS, NY

Mike Kelley: ‘Ghost and Spirit’

In a dizzying collision of sculptural installations, found objects, performance and sound work, American artist Mike Kelley (1954-2012) tore apart ideas of America and youth. The results are often disconcerting, filled with stuffed toys and grime, but always about something essential, important, underground, powerful. This is art for the punks, the hobos and the freaks, so you normies better beware.

Mike Kelley is at Tate Modern, Oct 2 2024-Mar 9 2025. More details here .   

Francis Bacon, Study for Self-Portrait (c) The Estate of Francis Bacon, all rights reserved DACS 2023.

‘Francis Bacon Portraits’

Can you ever have too much Bacon? My cardiologist thinks so, but the National Portrait Gallery heartily disagrees. So get ready to gorge yourself on Francis Bacon’s finest portraiture in this big ambitious blockbuster show of, you know, his portraiture. Could most of his work be considered portraiture? Yes, probably, but don’t let that stop you from getting your fill. 

‘Francis Bacon Portraits’ is at the National Portrait Gallery, Oct 10 2024-Jan 19 2025. More details here .

Can’t wait? Here are the ten best exhibitions  you can see in London right now. 

  • Eddy Frankel Art & Culture Editor

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IMAGES

  1. Ghost sculptures in the castle of Vezio, Italy (12 photos)

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  2. Ghost sculptures in the castle of Vezio, Italy (12 photos)

    ghost art statue

  3. Ghost sculptures in the castle of Vezio, Italy (12 photos)

    ghost art statue

  4. Ghostly veiled souls carved out of solid marble by sculptor Livio

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  5. Victorian Ghost Statue Glow in the Dark

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  6. Ghost sculptures in the castle of Vezio, Italy (12 photos)

    ghost art statue

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