Columbus: A Treasure Trove of Public Art

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Chaos I is a kinetic artwork by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely, located inside The Commons. PHOTO: Don Nissen

story by GLENDA WINDERS

When visitors come to Columbus, Indiana, it’s often to see the mid-century buildings that make the city so architecturally important. What they might not realize until they get here, however, is that there’s a lot more in store for them, too.

“Visitors are always delighted to see our collection of public art — especially in the downtown area,” said Erin Hawkins, director of marketing at the Columbus Area Visitors Center. “I think people are sometimes surprised by the variety of work throughout Columbus.”

Perhaps most impressive is the “Large Arch,” created in bronze by English sculptor Henry Moore. It was suggested by architect I.M. Pei, who had designed the public library and wanted a significant piece for the plaza that connects it visually with the historic First Christian Church across the street.

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Local artist Robert Pulley’s hand-built, stoneware-fired ceramic sculptures make up “Ancestral Way.” PHOTO: Columbus Area Visitors Center

Not far away “Eos,” goddess of the dawn, rises to dispel the mists of night and welcome the day. Created by artist Dessa Kirk as part of a Sculptural Invitational in 2006, the fiberglass and painted steel figure was so popular that locals raised enough money to keep it when the temporary exhibit ended. Every other fall, in odd- numbered years, the public art experience multiplies when “Exhibit Columbus” brings in temporary interactive works by international designers who respond to sites throughout the downtown area.

The Commons, a downtown gathering place, was originally designed by Cesar Pelli, who thought a kinetic sculpture by Jean Tinguely would be the perfect centerpiece. As the 30-foot-tall, 7-ton piece made of scrap metal metaphorically moves through a day in the life of a modern person it also forges a connection between industry and art.

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“Alternative Instruments,” a sculpture by Sam Jacobs Studio was part of Exhibit Columbus’s 2022 exhibition. PHOTO: Hadley Fruits

Columbus prides itself on making its public spaces attractive areas in which to congregate. A mural on the pavement at the intersection of Home Avenue and Union Street, for example, celebrates the surrounding neighborhood. The “Sixth Street Arts Alley,” a two-block section of street downtown, can be identified by its bold blue-and-yellow pattern. Along with a mural created by artist Nick Smith, it demarcates a place where events can be held and crowds can spill out from the nearby 411 Gallery. One of the gallery’s outside walls features a mural titled “Learning Patterns” by local designers Daniel Luis Martinez and Lulu Loquidis of LAA Office.

Downtown’s Friendship Alley, decorated with lights sculpture, plants and benches, was created to honor the relationship between Columbus and its sister city, Miyoshi, Aichi, Japan. Now it provides a place for impromptu happenings or just taking a break from shopping.

On the way out of town on Third Street visitors pass “Ancestral Way,” local artist Robert Pulley’s series of 11 hand-built, stoneware-fired ceramic sculptures that combine human figures with organic and geologic forms. The powerful pieces set the scene for saying a graceful goodbye.