Cary’s 'fire sculpture' will make quarter-mile odyssey

akenney@newsobserver.comJune 14, 2013 

The Cary Town Coucil plans to spend thousands of dollars to move a sculpture that some say is an eyesore.

ANDREW KENNEY - AKENNEY@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— For a time, it seemed the monolith would have to be destroyed or left alone.

Eleven feet of cracked clay has stood for months now in downtown Cary, the center of debate about the very nature of public art.

But where several contractors said the “fire sculpture” couldn’t be moved, one now has stepped forward. Bryant Industrial Crane & Rigging will tow the polarizing piece a quarter-mile, at a total cost of $28,000, to its final resting place in an empty town-owned lot.

The final chapter of a long and somewhat bizarre drama began with a unanimous vote on the Cary Town Council on Thursday. Cary will pay $15,250 for the move, while the United Arts Council of Raleigh & Wake County will kick in a $12,750 grant.

Council members said they weren’t happy about the price, but they saw the mover’s offer and the arts council grant as a chance to end an ongoing controversy – and not a moment too soon.

“I can tell you right now, if this was going to cost the town (the full price), I’d be making a motion to buy four sledgehammers right now,” said Councilman Don Frantz.

A fiery start

This all began last November with the whole tower glowing red hot, spitting embers skyward as hundreds gathered near the intersection of Academy Street and Dry Avenue.

That public experience was a focus of the project and a justification for its $40,000 price tag.

But the sculpture left behind – cracked, rough-textured and lonely in the middle of a field alongside a prominent road – turned dozens of Cary residents into art critics.

Some have called it the “Cary crack house,” others “the soggy milk carton.” The piece’s real name is “The Meeting Place,” and it’s the work of Danish artist Nina Hole.

As aesthetic complaints mounted, a conundrum emerged: Town staff hadn’t asked beforehand whether the sculpture was mobile, according to Doug McRainey, director of parks, recreation and cultural resources.

One moving company offered 50 percent odds at best that the sculpture could survive a move. The contractors didn’t even bite when staff promised not to hold them responsible for the potential destruction of the art during its journey.

But a willing mover emerged at last month.

“He is very gung ho,” McRainey said. “… He was pretty much the first mover that was gung ho.”

Future of public art

Bryant Marriner, owner of Bryant Industrial Crane & Rigging in Morrisville, is confident “The Meeting Place” will survive its odyssey.

The contractor will make the move in the next few months; it will take two weeks to build a support system around the sculpture, one week to build a new base, and less than day to haul the thing down Dry Avenue.

It’s unclear whether Marriner will be paid should the sculpture break. Staff hadn’t worked out all the details of the contract as of Friday morning.

Town planners also are sketching early designs for the “pocket park” that eventually will fill in the future sculpture site, which once was home to a water tower.

Looking back on the process, McRainey said the debacle may spark more detailed discussions of future public art projects.

“I think it’s important that we’ve gone through this and it’s been open, and it’s been a discussion,” he said. “I certainly think that there’ll be more discussion and more review. It should be like that for the spending of any public money.”

Kenney: 919-460-2608 or twitter.com/KenneyOnCary

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