However you see it, the often-overlooked installation created by famed artist Sol LeWitt in Atlanta’s historic Old Fourth Ward is a conversation starter. The public art piece “54 Columns” has been causing controversy since it was installed in the neighborhood in 1999 as Fulton County’s first piece of commissioned public art.
Some have wondered if the 54 concrete columns are there as a shell for a forthcoming structure, or the remnants of an already destroyed building. Some think the minimalist construction strains the boundaries of what we should consider art. Others admire the piece for the way the viewer can interact with it, moving in and out of the large columns.
The structure is built out of 54 concrete columns ranging in height from 10 to 20 feet. LeWitt envisioned the work as a nod to the city’s urban surroundings (hence his use of an industrial material like concrete) and to Atlanta’s skyline (from a distance, the work takes on the appearance of a cityscape). The piece combines industrial elements with a more abstract representation to create what Gregor Turk, the county’s public art coordinator at the time, called “simultaneously lowbrow and highbrow.”
Those who aren’t fans of the minimalist structure have made their objections known in a few ways. In 2003, neighbors who thought the concrete pillars weren’t exactly the look the neighborhood needed planted dogwood trees among the columns to cover up the view. The trees were removed after the city ruled “the trees spoiled the sanctity of LeWitt’s installation.” And in 2005, one of the structure’s columns was painted with bright pink latex paint.
The work has inspired dance performances, photo shoots, and, well, derision through the years. But as Charles Taylor, whose family donated the land and financed the structure’s construction, noted in an interview about the piece, “Good public art creates some controversy.”
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Located at the intersection of Glen Iris Drive NE and Highland Avenue NE. The closest MARTA station is King Memorial.