The hustle and bustle of Five Points, the heart of downtown Atlanta, is filled with knock-off Coach purses and honking horns. In the midst of the chaos, a large steel monument commemorates the historic intersection of five streets: Peachtree, Edgewood, Decatur, Whitehall, and Marietta. Created in 1996 by George Beasley, a professor at nearby Georgia State University, the 36 feet high steel monument dwarfs passing pedestrians, cars, and buses. It pays tribute to the artesian water tower that once stood in its spot and the old trolley that used to operate on these streets.
Atlanta is a relatively young city, and still unused to the notion of public art. It wasn’t really until the Olympics were chosen to be held in the Peach State that Atlantans rushed to fill the city with public art. Thus, the Corporation for Olympic Development (CODA) was formed.
It is no secret that Americans in general do not love public art, especially public art that is abstract. (Just think of the removal of Tilted Arc by Richard Serra in 1989 from the Federal Plaza in New York.) Perhaps in recognition of this fact, Beasley’s Five Points Monument is not completely abstract. The monument’s wide horizontal band helps recall the reservoir at the top of a water tower. The trusses are reminiscent of the trolley tracks that are now buried below Five Points’ streets. I appreciate the non-literal interpretation of the objects because it makes you think and spend more time examining the sculpture, perhaps instead of hastily walking by it. Although it is an asymmetrical shape, it feels balanced between the rigid linear steel trusses and the circular bronze pattern.
Generally public art is commissioned and planned for a specific outside site in order to make it accessible to all. Most, like Five Points Monument, commemorate a historical site, person, or event. One of the great things about public art is that it is there for all to see and interact with. While visiting the Beasley monument I noticed there was little interaction with it, aside from people merely walking by. I had my camera in hand and was repeatedly stopped and asked if I was lost or in need of directions. The answer, “just taking some pictures,” was met with a few raised eyebrows, which probably tells you everything you need to know about the monument’s perceived success.