Local Arts

The 14 artworks every Charlottean needs to see


If you wanted to see the best visual art in Charlotte – not pieces that pass through town in one exhibition or another, but the pieces that live here – where should you go? We asked Observer arts correspondents to pick their favorites. Here’s the list.

(And yes, we’re interested in your favorites. Tell us in the comments.)

“Reconstructed Dwelling” by Dennis Oppenheim. John D. Simmons John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charl

Sometimes I forget that we have a Dennis Oppenheim sculpture in Charlotte. I think it’s mostly just disbelief that there is a significant work of art by an artist of such renown available to see at all times, day and night. Reconstructed Dwelling is nestled between the platforms at the Tyvola Street Station of the LYNX Blue Line. It’s monumental, some 30 feet tall, with recognizable features of a deconstructed (or reconstructed, as the title suggests) house, making it a particularly good representation of the artist’s outdoor sculpture. Oppenheim created it in 2008, just a few years before he passed away. – Newman

“Group of Ten” by at Davidson College.

Though I work at Davidson, I can’t not suggest Group of Ten by Magdalena Abakanowicz as one of the top works to see in the Charlotte area. Nestled between Chambers Building and E.H. Little Library on the campus of Davidson College, the bronze installation is comprised of 10 of Abakanowicz’s iconic headless figures. It’s enigmatic and haunting, yet strangely beautiful. Abakanowicz is again, an internationally acclaimed sculptor, and in my opinion, truly one of the best of our time. – Newman

Sol LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing #995”: It’s “on loan” to the Bechtler, but read the story to see how that actually works. On loan to the Bechtler Museum

The Bechtler Museum of Modern Art’s two-story lobby is graced by Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #995, a long-term loan from the LeWitt Foundation. The colorful, geometric large-scale painting is an excellent example of a series of works LeWitt began in 1969, in which the artist presented a set of instructions to be interpreted and created, on-site, by a team of artists. – Newman


The Mint Museum is known for its collection of contemporary craft, including Mega Footprint Near the Hutch (May I Have This Dance?), a large linen and cork sculpture by artist Sheila Hicks. Hicks is famous for her large-scale, wrapped, sewn and woven textile sculptures and installations. The piece at the Mint Museum found its way to Charlotte via Minneapolis, where several components were reworked from a previous commission for Target. The reconfigured, brightly colored, three-story work is stunning – and certainly hard to miss! – Newman


Wall Poems of Charlotte aims to connect people to poetry, and goes about it by turning excerpts of poetry into permanent murals in urban spaces. Six new murals are slated for 2017: three in South End, two in the NoDa neighborhood, and one at CPCC’s Central Campus. Each mural is distinct and graphically interesting in its own right, bringing new life to spaces that have become overlooked through the years. A highlight of the 2017 debuts will feature words by A. Van Jordan, who is scheduled to speak at CPCC’s Sensoria arts festival in spring, in conjunction with the completion of his mural. – Cote

Dale Chihuly’s “Royal Blue Mint Chandelier” at the Mint Museum Uptown. TODD SUMLIN THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER

If it’s technical aptitude that you admire in artwork, Dale Chihuly’s Royal Blue Mint Chandelier in the lobby of the Mint Museum will give you your fix. Weighing 2,200 pounds, the sculptural feat is made of hundreds of individual handmade glass elements that hook on to a central mechanism. The glass tendrils spiral out from a blue core to transparent wisps, visually relating the work to both a graceful sea creature and a fiery celestial body. Chihuly is known around the world as a leader in contemporary glassmaking and this work perfectly exemplifies his style. – Cote

“Ainsa III” by Jaume Plensa, at UNC Charlotte Center City. Robert Lahser Observer file photo

Peace, unity and contemplation are the core concepts in Jaume Plensa’s work, and after a tumultuous 2016 in Charlotte and throughout the nation, these themes are more welcome and necessary than ever. At UNC Charlotte’s uptown campus, you’ll find a beautiful steel work by Plensa that was installed a year ago. AINSA III is a hollow sculpture depicting a seated figure and composed of connected and overlapping alpha-numeric characters of many languages. The name of the sculpture comes from the stone slab on which the figure sits, cut from a quarry in Ainsa, a city near the Pyrenees Mountains in Plensa’s native Spain. – Cote

Jean Tinguely’s “Cascade” sculpture decorates the lobby of the Carillon office building on Trade Street. DAVID T. FOSTER III Charlotte Observer file photo

The Carillon Building is one of the secret treasure troves of art in this city, and its stunning showstopper is the kinetic Jean Tinguely sculpture hanging from the ceiling of the lobby. Cascade was commissioned by Charlotte’s Bechtler family specifically for the building, which they developed. Made up primarily of found objects, this motorized amalgam measures 40 feet tall and hangs above a fountain, whose water converses with Cascade’s mechanical whirls, clicks and hums. If this sculpture interests you, mark your calendar for “Celebrating Jean Tinguely and Santana,” on view May 12-Sept. 10 at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art. – Cote

“The Firebird” by Niki de Saint Phalle in front of the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, which is turning 10 in 2020. Observer file photo

I think L’oiseau de feu sur l’arche (The Firebird) by Niki De Saint Phalle has been over-hyped as Charlotte’s kitschy urban landmark and underestimated as a symbol of reinvention. Over decades, Charlotte has continually reinvented itself, from agricultural stronghold to a mecca of mills to major banking capital. As the financial landscape of this country changes, Charlotte rises again and again, like a phoenix from the ashes. To me, this is what the sculpture represents for Charlotte: constant renewal – and also a fantastic place for the selfie generation to indulge our millennial lust for self reflection. – Stegall

dora (2)

I first saw Dora’s Dance by Beverly McIver at the Mint, right after reading about and seeing the film “Raising Renee.” Initially I was drawn to the joy of the figure in the painting, reveling in her dance. Then, after reading the label and connecting the painting with McIver as the artist, I was struck by the connection we have as viewers to the person painting. I so admire her dedication to both her family and her art, and her brushstrokes tell the deeper stories of our lives that we often don’t let ourselves feel. – Stegall


My first exposure to any type of fine art was ballet classes, when I was 4. I think this makes me predisposed to be interested in Edgar Degas. While the drawing Femme s’essuyant apres le bain is not one of his dancers, it still seems magical to visit, in its dimly lit cove at the Bechtler Museum. You can imagine Degas sitting in a corner of the room, drawing board propped on his knee, and the drawing is so full of life 130 years later that you almost expect the woman to turn her head and grin over her shoulder. – Stegall (Photo by JoAnn Sieburg-Baker)

“Wind Veil,” by Ned Kahn. Courtesy of the artist

Charlotte is blessed with two works by California artist Ned Kahn, shimmering structures that shield parking decks from view. Smack in the middle of Uptown is Wind Silo, at the International Trade Center garage – a beauty, but not my favorite. A little farther west, between 5th and Trade streets in the Gateway Village area, is Kahn’s mesmerizing Wind Veil. Covering almost the entire eastern façade of a parking deck, it is composed of thousands of tiny aluminum panels. If the air is still, you might not even be aware that it’s there. But as it catches the slightest breeze, it undulates, adding a mystical, dreamy quality to an otherwise utilitarian structure. – Schreiber

Integrity (1)

Hoss Haley’s Integrity is calm and inviting, almost beckoning you to climb into the big bronze hand. But its placement, catty-corner from the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, adds a note of contradiction that, depending on the reason you’re in the neighborhood, can give rise to a mix of emotions. Haley, based in Asheville, found inspiration for this work in a conversation with a lawyer who stressed the importance of remembering that laws are not handed down by God, but are the creation of people who, ideally, seek fair treatment for all. “This got me thinking about the hand,” he told me in a recent email. “We communicate so much with our hands. We shake on a deal, we offer assistance, we signal measure as well as displeasure. It’s a universal language.” A challenge for Haley was positioning the hand so that is appeared neither begging nor oppressive. The result is a neutral hand, “as if to say I’m simply offering my hand without judgment.” – Schreiber

Brandon Scott

In the large wall work titled Preludios y Partidas (detail above), commissioned by the Mint Museum as part of its Project Ten Ten Ten, ceramic figures stand or crouch on boulder-like ferro-cement structures. In my 2013 Observer story about the Penland-based artist Cristina Córdova and this work, I wrote: “Cristina Córdova’s ethereal figures seem to exist in a world of introspection, sadness or indifference. But they are not repelling or confounding; instead, they move the viewer to understand them and the mysterious realms they inhabit.” Most of the works on this list are outdoors; many are light in spirit. This one is inside; its tone is pensive. It is a perfect work to view on a wintry day, when the outdoors are challenging and the mood is introspective. – Schreiber