A Tour of Charlotte’s Public Art
Large and small, loud and subtle, Charlotte’s public art is reflective of the city’s vibrant, diverse culture
by Virginia Brown
The Sculptures at Independence Square
Location: Independence Square (Intersection of Trade and Tryon streets)
Four towering bronze sculptures keep watch over Independence Square at the intersection of Trade and Tryon streets uptown. The 5,000-pound monuments by artist Raymond Kaskey point to many of the Queen City’s shaping forces: transportation, future, industry and commerce.
“Transportation” shines a light on African Americans who worked to build Charlotte’s railroad system. “Future,” represented by a mother and child, points to potential, while women and textile mill workers are the focus of “Industry.” A gold miner signifies “Commerce” and the country’s first gold rush, which took place in Charlotte.
Location: Intersection of Josh Birmingham and Billy Graham parkways
Fittingly located at the entrance to Charlotte Douglas International Airport, “Ascendus” is a 60-foot, wing-like, tilted sculpture that suggests flight and ascension. Set against a lush backdrop of Carolina trees and shrubs, the work, installed in 2012, was crafted by artist Ed Carpenter using a combination of galvanized and stainless steel, laminated glass and LED flood lights.
Neighborhood: East Charlotte
Location: The BOplexlex, 2700 E Independence Blvd.
Concentric circles, spokes and swirls cover the art installation located on the renovated connector patio at The BOplex. “Reflective Terrain,” by Blane De St. Croix, pays homage to the iconic architecture of the Charlotte Coliseum, which, when it was built in 1956, was the largest free-spanning dome in the world.
Location: Bechtler Museum of Modern Art plaza
Sometimes referred to by locals as the “Disco Chicken,” “The Firebird,” a 17-foot sculpture on the plaza in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, was created in 1991 by artist Niki de Saint Phalle. The bird, glitzy atop an arched perch, is covered from top to bottom in a mosaic of mirrored and colored glass, making for a magnetic photo opportunity.
Art at The Green
The Green is a pocket park in Uptown that makes it easy to escape for a quick bite, leisurely stroll or run free with the kids. Its lively literary theme features whimsical sculptures, including water-spouting fish and a picnic-friendly landscape.
Neighborhood: Southwest Charlotte
Location: Whitehall Corporate Center
Like something out of a Sci-Fi film, Czech artist David Cerny’s “Metalmorphosis” rises 31 feet high and weighs a whopping 14 tons. The mirrored sculpture, housed at the Whitehall Corporate Center, is made up of 40 steel pieces, including seven rotating segments that create shiny abstract shapes and images. When aligned, they form a giant silver head whose mouth spits water into a surrounding pool.
“Pillars of Dreams”
Neighborhood: Westerly Hills
Location: Valerie C. Woodard Center, 3205 Freedom, Dr.
At the Valerie C. Woodard Center, Pillars of Dreams is a 26-foot high cloudy creation rooted to the ground by peg-like structures. Made up of two layers of perforated aluminum, creator Marc Fornes installed the pavilion art to encourage personal interaction: “It catches the eye from the street, but must be approached to be understood. The intensity of color grows as one nears the pavilion and finally envelopes the viewer upon entry--curiosity rewarded,” said Fornes.
Location: 227 W. Trade St., Carillon Building
Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, a longtime family friend of Andreas Bechtler, the namesake of Charlotte’s Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, is behind the whimsical cascading installation inside the Carillon Building on W. Trade Street in Uptown. Here, 40 feet overhead, you’ll find artifacts, objects and flashing lights in all shapes, sizes and colors, secured by pulleys and motors that whir in a musical motion.
"II Grande Disco"
Location: Bank of America Plaza on Tryon Street
Known as the great disc in Italian, “Il Grande Disco” is a massive bronze wheel located at Trade and Tryon streets, weighing 6 tons and spanning 15 feet. Sometimes referred to as the “gold disc” by locals, this coin-like sculpture features a map of the city bursting out from the center. Sculpted by Italian artist Arnaldo Pomodoro, it’s one of five similar sculptures globally, including versions in Chicago, New York, Germany and Milan.
“The Writer’s Desk”
Location: 300 E. 7th Street
This tribute to Rolfe Neill, longtime publisher of the Charlotte Observer and patron of the arts— among other local projects— features a combination of his own words carved in stone, plus tools, like typewriters and ink pens. According to artists Larry Kirkland, interaction is encouraged: “a keyboard becomes a series of seats ready for a performance, a scattering of pencils are benches, a tower of books becomes a light reflecting beacon, three rubber stamps admonish the viewer to Seek the Truth, Speak the Truth, and Hear the Truth.”
Queen Charlotte Sculpture
A longtime iconic sculpture at Charlotte Douglas International Airport, the 15-foot-tall Queen Charlotte is on the move. Dedicated in 1990, the bronze statue depicting the city’s namesake, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg, was modeled to appear like she is blowing in the wind. Part of a major airport renovation project, the sculpture will soon live in the terminal lobby.