Explore Charlotte's Public Art
The Queen City’s rich history, unique character and communal culture are represented in various public artworks that offer Charlotte a sense of place.
by Michael J. Solender
With multilayered textures and colors acting as metaphors for the diverse tapestry of life, the city’s works of public art embody our community. You’re invited to take a self-guided tour to some of Charlotte’s greatest pieces of public art, each one echoing the city’s distinct and eccentric culture.
The Sculptures at Independence Square
Location: Independence Square (Intersection of Trade and Tryon streets)
Bordering each corner at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets are four 5,000-pound sculptures towering atop granite pedestals, also known as Independence Square. This suite of bronze monuments by internationally renowned artist Rayment J. Kaskey signify the spirit of the city and the forces that shape the development of Charlotte. The names of the statues stand for the four facets of the Queen City: Transportation, Future, Industry and Commerce.
Transportation highlights the African American prominence in building the railroads that run through Charlotte. The Future, depicted by a mother and child, illustrates all of the potential the city has in its future. Industry pays tribute to the women mill workers, particularly those who worked in textiles. Commerce holds a gold pan in his hands, calling attention to America's very first gold rush that took place in Charlotte during the 19th century.
Location: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art plaza
The 17-foot-tall, 1,400-pound Firebird, installed on the Bechtler plaza in 2009, has become a signature landmark in the Queen City. Locals have even nicknamed the gleaming structure: “Disco Chicken.” Artist Niki de Saint Phalle created the sculpture and covered it in more than 7,500 mirrored and colored glass, which makes it one of the most photographed shots in the city. The Firebird’s proper name – titled "Le Grand Oiseau de Feu Sur l’Arche" or "The Large Bird of Fire on the Arch" – draws in visitors from all over the world, and can be seen shining bright day or night, rain or shine.
Location: Intersection of Josh Birmingham and Billy Graham parkways
Standing 60 feet tall and tipped at a precarious angle at the entrance to Charlotte Douglas International Airport is Ascendus. Crafted by Ed Carpenter, this high-tech structure is a mixture of steel alloy, laminated glass and 50-plus LED flood lights. The name of this piece suggests flight and ascension, which makes its wing-like appearance even more magical.
Neighborhood: Southwest Charlotte
Location: Whitehall Corporate Center
South Charlotte’s Whitehall Technology Park may not sound like the perfect place for one of Charlotte’s most interesting pieces of public art, but the Queen City is full of surprises. At 31 feet high and weighing in at a whopping 14 tons, David Cerny’s Metalmorphosis is hard to miss. The multisegmented head consists of 40 steel pieces grouped into seven parts which independently rotate, creating surreal and abstract shapes and images. But that’s not all: The mirrored sculpture also includes a mouth that spits water into a surrounding fountain.
Location: The Carillon Building
If you find yourself taking a stroll through the lobby of the Carillon Building on West Trade Street, look up. Forty feet above your head, you’ll find a quirky mashup of found artifacts, colored metal and flashing lights all being held together by a network of pulleys and motors that whir and hum as they power into motion. This giant kinetic sculpture was created by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely.
II Grande Disco
Location: Bank of America Plaza on Tryon Street
II Grande Disco – also known as the Great Disc in Italian – is a massive bronze wheel weighing 6 tons and spanning 15 feet in diameter. The bronze disc resembles a coin with what looks like a map of the city bursting from the center, commemorating Mecklenburg’s Declaration of Independence from England. The large wheel, sculpted by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, is one of five total “II Grande Disco” sculptures in the world. Other sister versions are installed in Chicago, New York, Germany and Milan.
With Charlotte’s growing and thriving art community, the city encourages all artists to express their cultures in a variety of ways and forms. To explore more of the Queen City public art scene, check out the artwork scattered throughout The Green in Uptown, enjoy The Mint Museum Uptown and Randolph locations or spend an afternoon at the city’s art galleries—from Goodyear Arts to Sozo Gallery.
Article originally written by Michael Solender. Updated October 2019 by CRVA staff.