3 Must-See Public Art Installations

Written by Marilyn Hawkes Category: Visual Arts Issue: February 2016

Soleri Bridge and Plaza / Photo by Bill TimmermanHave you ever spotted a colorful mural on the side of a building or an abstract sculpture in a park and wondered why it’s there?

Public art has many raisons d’être, from ensuring providing aesthetic beauty for the masses to serving a functional purpose. Sometimes the artwork acts as a visual way for a community to express its character and personality.

But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not all art is pleasing to all people, which can be problematic when it’s in the public domain. Luckily, there's such a variety in the Valley that everyone can find a piece of public art to inspire them. Bonus: Public art is accessible without stepping foot in a museum or an art gallery – a boon for budget-conscious art lovers.

Here are three public art displays to see around the Phoenix metro area.

Soleri Bridge and Plaza
Completed in 2011, the Soleri Bridge crosses the Arizona Canal just south of Camelback Road at Scottsdale Road. Designed by artist and architect Paolo Soleri, the bridge is anchored by two 64-foot pylons that resemble concrete smokestacks. The bridge also doubles as a solar calendar, designed to mark solstice events on June 21 and December 21, and equinox events around March 22 and September 21. The south end of the bridge spills into a 22,000-square-foot plaza with totemic panels replicating the cast wall motif representative of Cosanti and Arcosanti, Soleri’s studio and prototype city, respectively, both located in Arizona. Also on the plaza: 11 earth-cast panels made of desert dirt, water and cement.
Fun fact: Soleri designed bridges for more than 60 years, but the Soleri Bridge was his first commissioned and completed bridge. He was 91 years old when it was dedicated.
Scottsdale and Camelback roads, Scottsdale
Photo credit: Bill Timmerman

"Her Secret is Patience" by Janet Echelman / Photo by Craig Smith“Her Secret is Patience”
Adjacent to Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, the massive sculptural installation “Her Secret is Patience” looms large above Civic Space Park. Commissioned by the City of Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, sculptor Janet Echelman created an otherworldly sculpture made of polyester netting, galvanized steel and colored lights that change with the season. Designed to resemble Arizona’s cumulus clouds in the monsoon winds, with colors reminiscent of local cacti, the sculpture has been unofficially dubbed “The Cervix in the Sky” for its resemblance to the female anatomy.
Fun fact: The sculpture came with a price tag of $2.5 million, and the netting has to be replaced every five years.
Civic Space Park
424 N. Central Ave., Phoenix
Photo credit: Craig Smith

"Don't Wake the Dreamer" / Mural and photo by Lauren Lee“Don’t Wake the Dreamer”
In May 2015, painter and muralist Lauren Lee started work on a large mural on the side of a building owned by the City of Tempe at Hardy Drive just north of University Drive at Jaycee Park. Originally conceived as a way to deter graffiti artists, “Don’t Wake the Dreamer” has transformed the space into a beautiful neighborhood landmark. The mural, which is 153 feet long by 16 feet tall, is the first publicly commissioned mural by the City of Tempe and represents the dreams of college students and children of Tempe. Replete with vibrant colors – purples, oranges, yellow, pink and purple on a turquoise background – the mural depicts a sleeping woman with birds perched on her body and flowers in her hair.
Fun fact: Lee, an ASU graduate in studio art, was chosen from 45 vying artists to paint the mural.
Hardy Drive just north of University Drive, Tempe
Photo credit: Lauren Lee