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Thought Leadership Views From Peachtree

Arrivederci, Autoeater: A Sculpture that Started a Conversation

Julia Venske and Gregor Spänle stand in front of Autoeater at 10th Street Park.

By Ginny Kennedy, Director of Urban Design at Midtown Alliance

A Fiat Panda half-devoured by translucent stone has anchored the corner of 10th and Peachtree Streets for nearly four years.

The giant sculpture known as Autoeater will soon be revving its way out of the city. Some will be sad to see it go, while others may welcome its departure. The sculpture has been polarizing, as well as a defining work in Midtown’s growing art program. By activating this bustling corner with a striking focal point, Autoeater demonstrates the vital role that art plays in fostering dialogue about important issues. Gallery owner Marcia Wood introduced the artists Julia Venske and Gregor Spänle to Midtown and was instrumental in facilitating the trans-Atlantic crossing of their sculpture, which traveled almost 5,000 miles to get here from Italy.  

For the last 6 years, Midtown Alliance has focused on transforming public spaces with art. We rely on help from partners all over the district to make this happen. A recent partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden brought a living sculpture in the form of a bright green frog to greet people on 10th Street as they enter Midtown from the west. Working with MARTA, we made enhancements at the Arts Center and Midtown MARTA Stations, bringing the station areas to life with new seating, lighting and murals. At 10th Street Park, which Midtown Alliance leases from Dewberry Corp. for $1 a year, Autoeater was preceded by Rockspinner, a 22,000 lb. granite boulder mounted on a rotating base. 

Currently, public space enhancements are underway at 15th and Peachtree Streets to provide new seating, lighting, landscaping and public art in Midtown’s cultural and creative epicenter. We are thrilled to reintroduce Dorothy Berge’s 1968 sculpture, Sabine Woman, to the southwest corner of the intersection, where it will anchor Arts District Plaza. The project is on track to be complete around Labor Day.

Also, beginning this month, we are welcoming six artists to Midtown through our Heart of the Arts Residency Program. This program is made possible by the generous partnership of commercial property owners such as Portman Holdings, Dewberry Foundation, and the Atlanta History Center, who are providing free studio space for 12 months. By donating studio space, our founding partners enable these talented artists to bring their creative practices to Midtown where they can engage with new audiences and thrive. This is another step towards achieving our ambitious vision for Midtown as a place in which creativity and artistic expression are defining characteristics of an exceptional urban experience. 

We believe art is an essential part of daily life. It contributes to the diversity we seek and raises topics that are important to civic life. Art should be accessible to all, even without the purchase of a ticket.

While art is for everyone, the beauty of individual pieces is in the eye of the beholder, and we are not shy about taking risks. With Autoeater, Venske & Spänle carved Carrara marble into a sensuous shape that melts, folds, dissolves, flows and wiggles. It was created to subvert the expectation of the viewer by suggesting that heavy objects are light, soft and malleable, while concealing their origins of weight and mass. 

By intentionally placing Autoeater within view of a busy intersection, Midtown Alliance invited dialogue about Atlanta’s relationship with the automobile in the context of one of the city’s most walkable urban districts. Some people loved the sculpture, while others found it uncomfortable. Simply put, it was controversial. It empowered citizens to take a point of view and challenged us to reflect on issues that are critical to the long-term sustainability of our city. 

Midtown Alliance’s public art strategy focuses on ephemeral, temporary installations, for this reason: it grants us the opportunity to introduce bold, dynamic work that sparks public conversation, while also allowing us the freedom to change pieces as the district continues to evolve. As we prepare for Autoeater‘s return to Italy in a few weeks, we are actively searching for a new piece to take its place. Be on the lookout for the debut of our next conversation starter. 

 

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