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Plensa sculpture shines in Durham

Posted December 1, 2008
Updated March 29, 2010

— The new Durham Performing Arts Center has opened its doors, and a brightly-lit sculpture – visible for miles – was unveiled at Monday evening's open house.

Plensa sculpture shines in Durham Jaume Plensa sculpture lights up DPAC

The sculpture, by noted Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, shoots a shaft of bright blue light straight to the sky.

“We need to create a magic space,” Plensa said.

The sculpture, entitled "Sleep No More," consists of a 13-foot-diameter disk of aluminum and stainless steel that bears a quote from William Shakespeare's "Macbeth" in raised letters spiraling out from the center. A 7,000-watt beam of light shoots up vertically from an underground bulb through a lens in the middle of the disk, which sits on the ground.

Plensa created a similar piece in Chicago.

“They transformed a hole in the ground into this miraculous piece of art and architecture,” Chicago architect Mark Sexton said.

Plensa's work has also appeared in New York.

“It's like a landscape. A text is a landscape, plenty of possibilities,” Plensa said.

In 2005, a Plensa sculpture was offered for the south end of Raleigh's Fayetteville Street, which was being reopened to traffic downtown after years as a pedestrian mall.

Some officials complained the lights would detract from the view from the State Capitol building to the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The controversy caused Plensa to drop out of the project.

“I'm completely convinced he (City Manager Russell Allen) is doing a huge mistake. He needs more information about the actual world,” Plensa said of the rejection.

Plensa, though, will come full circle in Raleigh next year when three of his sculptures hang at the North Carolina Museum of Art.

“It's a pleasure,” Plensa said of having his work displayed in Raleigh.

Jim Goodmon, the president and chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., donated the Plensa sculpture to the Durham Performing Arts Center. Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL.

“Cities need to take risk. In fact, if you don't take risk, you're like every other city in the world,” Sexton said.

“People need spaces just to relax and to think, ‘Wow, this is such a wonderful city,’” Plensa said.

The $48 million Durham Performing Arts Center hosted its first performance Sunday night—a concert by legendary blues singer B.B. King.

The multi-use performance space, which seats up to 2,800 people, is the largest performing arts center in both North Carolina and South Carolina.

The center's spring 2009 calendar is already booked with a slew of Broadway shows, including "Rent," "Fiddler on the Roof," "Wicked" and "The Color Purple."


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  • SuperNupe Dec 2, 2008

    Ultimately, this is good for Durham...

  • colliedave Dec 2, 2008

    “Cities need to take risk. In fact, if you don't take risk, you're like every other city in the world,” Sexton said.

    Wrong. Individuals are the ones to take the financial risks.

  • micah Dec 2, 2008

    Actually, that lamp is almost certainly a Xenon short-arc. They do not have ballasts, or at least not in the traditional sense. It would have a solid state rectifier...A giant switching power supply, so it won't use much more than 7300K watts or so, even with any water cooling it has. 7000 watt Xenon short-arcs are about $1000.00 per lamp, and the lamps normally get about 900 hours before they require replacement.

  • Space Mountain Dec 2, 2008

    Waste of money. All projects like this and even new road construction should be halted in economic times like we are seeing now.

  • Dr. Dataclerk Dec 2, 2008

    May as well spent the money on something that is beautiful. Crime is ugly and would have been a waste of money on it.

  • superman Dec 2, 2008

    Maybe they can cut off the street lights too-- how about the money they spend during December for christmas lights. Sometimes the beauty is more important than a couple dollars. I have exterior lighting on my house-- costs me a few dollars a month but for me it is worth the pleasure. At least Durham has done something "right". Go Durham!

  • St Ives Dec 2, 2008

    Alas what is so bad about being "small town" I declined a very good offer a few years ago because it would have forced me to live in Chicago. If that is small minded so be it. This kind of thing may be art ot some and I guess if you like this you would have liked disco clubs in the 70s same kind of light shows.

  • SaveEnergyMan Dec 2, 2008

    OK class, let's talk about how much it will really cost to power this light. The 7,000 Watt lamp probably uses 8 kW of power (there is a ballast in addition to the lamp that uses power). It probably operates 6 hours per evening (6 pm - midnight on average), maybe a little more in the winter and a little less in the summer. That's 17,520 kWh. Since the DPAC is on a commercial rate, the cost of electricity (including demand) is about $0.07/kWh. The total cost per year is $1,226. The lamp will have to changed every other year or so, and that will cost almost as much as the power, in all likelihood. So total operating cost is about $1,500-$2,000 per year.

  • Hasbeen Dec 2, 2008

    Charlesboyer - I concur with you completely

  • Dr. Dataclerk Dec 2, 2008