Take time to appreciate 15 of the city's most engaging pieces of public art.
The best thing about public art is just that: It’s public.
“What I love about public art in a city like Columbus is that it can make anyone’s day a little better,” says Lori Baudro, public art project coordinator for the city and the Columbus Art Commission. “And nothing’s better than the first time you stumble upon it.”
Here’s a roundup of a few local favorites to stumble upon soon—whether it’s your first time or your 100th.
Walk among the landscaped re-creations of boats, people, a monkey and a cat from Georges Seurat’s painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte” in Topiary Park (480 E. Town St.). Columbus parks employee James T. Mason began carving the topiaries in 1988, and the public space has been an icon of local idyll and ingenuity ever since.
The Supreme Court of Ohio’s Thomas J. Moyer Judicial Center (65 S. Front St.) is bookended by two reflecting pools with public art installations. On the south side is the giant stainless steel Gavel, made in 2008 by sculpture artist Andrew W. Scott. On the north side, you’ll find In Principle & In Practice, where carved-granite words (peace, truth, integrity, reason) by Ohio State University art professor Malcolm Cochran silently speak to the foundations of our justice system and, thanks to the words’ visual metamorphoses throughout the day, the evolution of justice in our modern world.
Other Columbus classics: the Umbrella Girl fountain sets a mood of quiet reflection and optimism on the northwest end of German Village’s Schiller Park (1069 Jaeger St.); the bronze Arnold Schwarzenegger statue strikes a gold-medal pose in front of the Greater Columbus Convention Center (400 N. High St.), where the star’s health and fitness expo happens every year; and the Peter Pan fountain at the Columbus Metropolitan Library’s main branch (96 S. Grant Ave.) is a moving tribute from 1928. It was commissioned by Charles E. Munson in honor of the children of Columbus and in memory of his son, who died mysteriously at the age of 6.
On the western bank of the Scioto River, between Rich and Broad streets Downtown, Genoa Park is the resting spot for two lounging Deer Sculptures. A third deer takes a breather on the Rich Street Bridge. Country singer and visual artist Terry Allen created the anthropomorphic bucks as a nod to the Shawnee origins of the river’s name (“hairy water,” for the deer hair they found floating in it, according to local lore).
On the other side of the river, across from Scioto Mile’s Bicentennial Park, is the Cultural Arts Center (139 W. Main St.). Perched on its surrounding brick wall is the preserved, cast-bronze Eagle and Shield that once adorned the battleship USS Ohio.
Farther up the river is North Bank Park, a glass pavilion and public esplanade with an art showcase titled Flowing Kiss, built by Lawrence Argent in 2013 with support from the Columbus Art Commission. The piece’s two sculptures of stainless steel, granite and marble evoke a kiss being blown across well-traversed Neil Avenue between Spring and Long streets.
Columbus College of Art & Design (which is conveniently proximate to the Columbus Museum of Art) is home to the iconic CCAD ART sign. Bright red, 100 feet tall and 100 feet wide, this sprawling sculpture straddling Gay Street at Cleveland Avenue is hard to miss and photogenic from every angle.
Other college campuses in the city boast artwork funded through the Ohio Arts Council’s Percent for Art program, which OAC director Donna S. Collins says has completed more than 30 projects in Central Ohio since its enactment in 1990. At Columbus State Community College, check out the sculpture Indra by Olga Ziemska. It reimagines the Columbus Hall Library exterior on which it’s installed (291 Jefferson Ave.) as a universe of information and interconnection.
The Ohio State University campus, where you’ll also find the world-renowned Wexner Center for the Arts, features Percent for Art works such as Leo Villareal’s LED fusion of light, art, science and technology in the Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering and Chemistry building; Jim Isermann’s Hagerty Hall courtyard modular seating sculpture Petit Five (1775 College Road S); and, coming in May, a Roy Lichtenstein Foundation brushed stainless steel sculpture titled Modern Head, which will celebrate the seminal artist’s Buckeye start. The new, 31-foot-tall sculpture on North Campus will be “a testament to our state’s international influence and prominence in developing world-class artists,” says Collins.
Fittingly, public art abounds in the Short North Arts District. See Leonardo DaVinci’s most famous gal turned sideways on a Short North side street; Brian Clemons painted the enigmatic “Mona Lisa Mural” (corner of Pearl Street and Cedar Alley) in 1990, and it remains one of locals’ most beloved hidden gems.
Don’t miss the Harlem Renaissance temporary mural series throughout the district, and visit arttrail.shortnorth.org to find a list of more than 40 art sites—including temporary and permanent works from the Short North Mural Series, public art installations and galleries—you can hit up as you head down High Street. Check in at all the trail’s stops to earn a special discount at the businesses in the neighborhood.
In late 2019, the Art on High Strategic Plan—led by community planning firm Designing Local—will also unveil a hotly anticipated piece of public art created by Brooklyn-based, Cleveland-born artist Mark Reigelman at Hubbard and High streets. The work, which was still under wraps at press time, will be “an ode to the makers,” says Amanda Golden, managing principal at Designing Local, and “a tribute to things made in the past, things being made in Columbus now and how we will remain a city for making things.”
Turn the corner at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams’ Short North location and you’ll find the neighborhood’s best-known piece of art: the Instagram-worthy “Short North Gothic Mural” (corner of High and Lincoln streets).
Reprinted from Columbus Monthly City Guide 2019.