Public art transforms outdoor spaces and elevates the environment in which it inhabits. It provokes thought, conversation and stokes creativity. Here are some of best public art installations in the D.C. area.
Cupid’s Garden
Wilson Blvd./Nash St./Oak St.
Arlington, VA 22201

Here’s a mind-bending, shiny sight. In this creative installation called “Cupid’s Garden,” 23 of Cupid’s steely arrows curve, twist and turn as if chasing an elusive or invisible target. Created by sculptor Chris Gardner, this four ton angular sculpture is juxtaposed against a flowery, multicolored garden situated inside a triangular traffic island on Wilson Blvd. The striking creation immediately captures your attention as your eyes follow the arrows on their winding escapade.

Symphony In DC Major
P Street, Shaw Neighborhood
Washington, DC 20001
(877) 284-1677
www.citymarketato.com

Created by D.C. native Zachary Oxman, “Symphony in D.C. Major” is an installation designed to blend with the spirit of its neighborhood. Situated in a new Shaw development the artwork honors figures who are significant to Shaw and the history of D.C., including historic jazz legend Duke Ellington, former Shaw Junior High School teacher and painter Alma Thomas, and Union Army Col. and Abolitionist Robert Gould Shaw–the person for whom the neighborhood was named. The installation, which is at points 17 feet tall and 16 feet wide, caps off a Shaw redevelopment project completed by Roadside, which includes a Cambria Suites hotel, 550 luxury units, 90 units for seniors, and over 90,000 square feet of retail space.

The Awakening
National Harbor, MD 20745

This 70-foot-wide, larger-than-life sculpture has been in the DMV for years, but never ceases to capture the public’s attention. Created in 1992 by John Seward Johnson Jr., “The Awakening” showcases a horizontal cast iron bearded man (partially submerged by sand) who appears to have been awakened and is stretching in his new found awareness. It could also be interpreted that the man has been partially swallowed-up by circumstances. He appears to be sinking and his limbs peak through the surface as he reaches out for a lifeline. The sculpture spent 27 years at the District’s Hains Point before it was relocated in 2008 to its current location at Maryland’s National Harbor.  

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The Big Chair
2120 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE (at V St. SE)
Washington, DC 20020
www.cicotello.com

The Big Chair is truly a work of art. The gargantuan piece of furniture has been a part of the Disrict’s pop culture since it was first erected in 1959 by Bassett Furniture Company as a promotional strategy for Curtis Brothers Furniture. The original 19-foot-tall structure was constructed using 4,600 pounds of rich Honduran mahogany. The landmark quickly garnered the interest and affection of countless natives and visitors. However, by 2005 the monument had become terribly weathered and had suffered years of decay since the wood was exposed to the elements — it was dismantled that year. In April 2006, a new-and-improved aluminum version returned to its pedestal where it remains today to be enjoyed by all.

Duke Ellington Mural
1200 U St. N.W.
Washington, DC 20009

Here’s another work of art involving the “Duke.” You can get a glimpse of the “Duke” when you travel past the True Reformer Building in the U Street/Shaw neighborhood. Completed in 1997 by artist G. Byron Peck and nine students, the vibrant mural depicts Ellington with tousled hair and a piercing stare. His image is complemented by bright blues and greens in checkerboard, paisley and art deco patterns which fill out the mural. Piano keys finish off the look.

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Kevin Don Porter is the author of OVER THE EDGE and MISSING—two mysteries available on Amazon.com. Visit his website at www.kevindonporter.com..