Symbolism in Downtown Charlotte Public Art

Public art is crucial in representing many aspects of Charlotte’s history and character. An analysis of the structures and figures scattered throughout the uptown area gives a glimpse of the relationship between the art and the buildings around it. Through this analysis, we are also able to analyze the significance of public art to the history of Charlotte.


The Firebird located at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art public plaza. Photo Credit: Margarita Toledo

Starting with one of the most popular and most visited structures, The Firebird is one of the most notable pieces in the area. The public plaza of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art has been its home for the past nine years. It references a Greek mythological bird known as the phoenix, which represents renewal and rebirth. With its carefully placed small mosaic pieces, all mirrored and colored, the structure reflects off the glistening sun during the daytime and serves as an aesthetically appealing, joyful, and welcoming piece for museum visitors and many others. Needless to say, this sculpture is well known and widely acclaimed by Charlotteans.

The museum architect and art piece sculptor chose to place The Firebird outside of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art so that it would complement the geometric lines represented in the museum’s architecture. The piece was also chosen due to the friendship and previous collaboration between the museum’s Swiss architect, Mario Botta, and the French American sculptor of The Firebird, Niki de Saint Phalle.


II Grande Disco commemorates North Carolina’s independence from Great Britain. Photo Credit: Flickr 


The following piece, known as II Grande Disco (The Great Disc), is a bronze sculpture also located in the heart of Charlotte. Installed October 2, 1974, and placed to commemorate North Carolina’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, the sculpture is one of the most well-known pieces of public art in Charlotte. The declaration took place in Mecklenburg County, and although there has always been great debate on whether the event really happened, “Meck Day” remains a day of historical importance. When you first look at the sculpture, you initially notice what seems to be a descending view of a city. Its previous ability to rotate was used to represent the changes that the city was experiencing at the moment and in the future. Arnaldo Pomodoro, the Italian sculptor behind the creation of this piece, aimed to represent just what the city was experiencing during this grand change in Charlotte’s history, and its hopes for future advancements.


Wind Sculpture in downtown Charlotte. Photo Credit: The Charlotte Observer


The next piece, created by artist Jack Pentes in 1986, is named the Wind Sculpture. This work of art has the same effect of change as The Great Disco, but instead of actually representing the city changing itself, it serves as a piece that remains static as the city changes and grows around it. This concept was also incorporated in the moving parts of the piece, as you experience alternating positions at different times of the day. The original colors on the piece represented the seasons but were meant to be changed and updated throughout the life of the sculpture. The piece was made possible by an anonymous society.

These sculptures are only a few out of many that highlight Charlotte’s history. Their placement and design ignites curiosity of their respective stories in anyone who encounters them.


About the author: Margarita Toledo is an undergraduate senior at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and is pursuing a degree in both Studio Art and Psychology. She is studying both subjects with the interest of becoming an Art Therapist in the future. Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, and being drawn to sculpture work the most out of all other types of art, she appreciates the meaning behind public art she has encountered in the small towns and cities that she has visited throughout her life.

Feature image photo credit: Flickr