Local News

Durham to consider Plensa sculpture

Posted October 22, 2008 11:02 a.m. EDT
Updated October 22, 2008 7:23 p.m. EDT

— Two years after Raleigh officials backed away from public art downtown by noted Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the Durham City Council is expected to discuss Thursday whether to accept a Plensa sculpture for the plaza outside the new Durham Performing Arts Center.

Jim Goodmon, the president and chief executive of Capitol Broadcasting Co., has offered to donate the sculpture if the city agrees to maintain it for at least 25 years. Capitol Broadcasting is the parent company of WRAL.

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.

Kimerly Rorschach, director of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University, said having a Plensa sculpture would be a huge boost for Durham's standing in the art world.

"I think it does provide a lot of new attention for the city of Durham to have commissioned a major work from an internationally known artist," Rorschach said. "He is a leading contemporary sculptor, I think one of the most imaginative artists working today."

City officials have recommended accepting the donation, saying they expect maintenance and utility costs to be less than $7,800 a year. Mayor Bill Bell said he foresees no problem with the council approving the plan.

Douglas Pratt, a curator of the North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, has already written to council members to lobby against the sculpture. The beam of light would disorient and harm migratory birds, he said, and he suggested leaving the beam off in the spring and fall.

The beam is expected to be so strong that Durham officials would have to notify air-traffic controllers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport when the beam is turned on and off, according to a city memo.

Capitol Broadcasting, which has purchased the naming rights to the plaza, also has financed the redevelopment of former tobacco warehouses next to the site of the performing arts center into downtown office and retail space.

In 2005, Goodmon offered a Plensa sculpture 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 display of flashing lights would detract from the view from the State Capitol to the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. The controversy caused Plensa to drop out of the project, and Goodmon then withdrew his offer to donate public art to the site.

Raleigh officials broke ground Monday on the City Plaza downtown after redesigning the project.

Goodmon last year donated three Plensa sculptures to the North Carolina Museum of Art.

If Durham accepts the donation, the sculpture will be unveiled on Dec. 1. The performing arts center is scheduled to open Nov. 30.