BY ELLIE HENSLEY
A new sculpture has landed in Commercial Row Commons as a result of a partnership between the City of Atlanta and Midtown Alliance.
"The Sole Sitter" by Willie Cole was acquired in 2017 by former Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed as part of the RenewATL Infrastructure Bond program, which mandates that a portion of the infrastructure capital spending must go toward public art.
"Midtown Alliance has a history of partnering with cultural institutions to bring artwork directly to the public," said Lauren Radman, Project Manager of Urban Design and Placemaking at Midtown Alliance. "Public art in public places is a key tenet of our ongoing efforts to generate a vibrant urban environment. We're thrilled to have partnered with the City to add this artwork to Midtown's permanent collection, and we're pleased to site it in Midtown's newest public plaza, Commercial Row Commons."
“The Sole Sitter” is one of nine public art pieces selected by Mayor Reed's administration and the first to be installed. These works honor our diversity while bringing public spaces to life and capturing the public’s imagination.
"The City of Atlanta is thrilled to see Willie Cole's Work installed in Midtown," said Samara Minkin, Manager of Public Art at the City of Atlanta Mayor's Office. "This sculpture was chosen by Atlanta's leading museum curators to be a part of a program that will bring museum-quality artwork in public space, making it accessible to Atlantans."
"The Sole Sitter" is on view now at the corner of Peachtree Street and Peachtree Place. Read about what inspired the sculpture below.
"The Sole Sitter" depicts an abstract seated figure, meditatively resting its head on its hands. At first glance, the piece appears to be made of a series of geomorphic shapes. After a closer look, it’s evident that the shapes are larger-than-life shoes. The sculpture is inspired by the aesthetics of the Luba people, an ethnolinguistic group indigenous to the south-central region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“I’m interested in compressing time and making something modern out of something old that looks like something ancient,” Cole said. “I think of it as something that is collapsing time. It looks like a Luba sculpture - that is the ancient part - but it’s made out of something modern, shoes. So at a glance, it appears primitive, contemporary, and futuristic all at once."
The maquette for "The Sole Sitter" was made with real shoes, 3D scanned and enlarged. Cole was first inspired to make a sculpture out of shoes back in the 1990s, when his son gave him about seven pairs of old sneakers. He needed more shoes for what he had in mind, so he visited a thrift store and found they had an abundance of barely worn high heels.
“I touched on the potential then, but I really went insane in 2005 when I was a fellow at The University of Georgia and was able to get Potter's House Thrift Store in Athens, Ga., to save high heels for me,” Cole said. “From September to January, they gave me what seemed like millions of shoes.”
Finding Eternal Life Through Public Art
Cole posted a photo of the bronze sculpture on social media and offered it to anyone who was interested in paying for its production, and Beta Pictoris Gallery in Birmingham, Alabama, took him up on the offer. Later, a larger version of "The Sole Sitter" was produced by the Alexander and Bonin Gallery in New York City.
Other replicas of it exist in museums in San Antonio, Texas, and Newark, New Jersey, and Cole also has work owned by The High Museum in Midtown. But he loves that Midtown’s "The Sole Sitter" is displayed outside.
“I’m glad it’s in a public plaza, because not everyone goes to museums,” he said. “Public art is for seeing — the more eyes on it, the better. I’ve had some thoughts recently about this concept of living forever, and the only way to live forever is to be embedded in someone’s memory. Public art gives an artist the opportunity to live forever. As long as it’s there, I will still be alive.”
See more of Willie Cole’s works on his webpage.