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Plensa sculpture shines in Durham

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

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DURHAM, N.C. — 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.

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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Scott Mason, Reporter
Tom Normanly, Photographer
Minnie Bridgers, Web Editor

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