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Chapel Hill Cultural Arts Divison keeps sculpting the future of public art

Bench VI created by Matthias Neumann on display at the Chapel Hill Library sculpture trail. Courtesy of Matthias Neumann.

Bench VI created by Matthias Neumann on display at the Chapel Hill Library sculpture trail. Courtesy of Matthias Neumann.

That is the goal of Sculpture Visions, the 10-year ongoing program run by the Chapel Hill Cultural Arts Division.

The process begins in July, when a group of commissioners, artists and town staff choose which pieces will be on display at each of the 12 available locations.

Dan Cefalo, a chairperson of the Chapel Hill Public Arts Commission, said the art is on display from July until June of the next year.

“We basically try to choose pieces that best fit the locations, whether that is based on space, on layout, based on if some of them are approachable or can be touched and just all of these various factors come into play,” he said. “If it is a piece that is on shared public-private partnership land, we will reach out to the owner and will present him the options that we picked and he will say yes or choose something else.”

Cefalo said the input of the business managers and owners is a key part of the selection process for the art pieces.

“We have reached out to make sure everyone is getting their voices in regarding the pieces, and seeing that it is an accurate representation of their business,” he said.

One of these pieces, ‘bench Vl’, was created by Matthias Neumann, a New York-based artist who uses fir wood to create abstract sculptures across the country in a series called “Basics.”

“So you are curious about it when you’re walking in the woods and see these two squares that almost seem to be floating, it inspires you to learn more about it,” Chapel Hill Library Director Susan Brown said. “And then you realize it’s a bench and you can interact and connect with it.”

Neumann said the main themes of his work are the ideas of temporary public art and the personal interpretation of the viewer.

“The name evokes the idea of what it is, and the dimensions and economics are such that you are very comfortable sitting on the bench,” he said. “However, the formal approach to it, it’s a very abstract object, but you would also see it as something that you are not supposed to touch but just look at. It operates in that in-between. It’s up to the viewer to negotiate with himself/herself.”

“Happy Wanderers,” a sculpture by Virginia-based artist Charlie Brouwer that consists of two sculptures made of Locust wood, is on display at the library trail as well. Brouwer’s depiction of a hiking grandparent and their grandchild can be identified across generations and makes for an interesting piece of public art, he said.

Neumann said his experience creating public art showed him that people are curious about it.

“In the short two days it took for me to install, I had interactions with people who were wondering and had questions about what it was that I was doing and asking, ‘What is that, a bench or a sculpture?’” he said. “If it is a sculpture, you may raise questions such as, ‘What is beauty and what is place, what makes a place more enjoyable or memorable?’”

Neumann’s art emphasizes the conversation that results from art.

“I do think public art creates an interaction, and raises questions — and these questions always lead to expanding minds.”


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