Chris Fennell describes his artwork as “Harlem Globetrotters meets Rube Goldberg.” Or a cross between basketball and the board game “Mousetrap.”
The structure at the newly renovated Halifax Community Center near downtown Raleigh is called “Hoops Playing Hoops,” and it is Raleigh’s newest piece of public art.
A set of five twisted basketball hoops resembling stick figures, Fennell’s project calls to mind the linked circle of dancers in artist Henri Matisse’s “Joy of Life.”
The hoops vary in height from 11 to 15 feet, and four are functional. All feature the standard orange-and-white backboard.
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“When you drive by and you see it, you already know what it is, but you’ve never seen anything like it before,” Fennell said.
Fennell was one of more than 60 artists who responded to Raleigh’s call two years ago for a public art piece at Halifax Community Center.
Three finalists were invited to interview. Fennell made the final cut.
“He was selected because of the ‘wow factor’ of his sculptures,” said Kim Curry-Evans, the city’s public art coordinator. “It’s adding an element of whimsy to a really beautiful structure.”
Curry-Evans said she is excited to see something different in the area that community members can call their own.
“Chris made that clear from the beginning,” she said. “He really wanted to have something that folks would have an opportunity to interact with.”
The art is sponsored by the Half Percent for Art, a 2009 ordinance that directed one half of 1 percent of municipal construction funds to public art.
“Hoops Playing Hoops,” which cost nearly $80,000, is one of nine public art projects totaling nearly $1 million, Curry-Evans said.
Fennell designed his artwork for the community center to be interactive. Although the installation rests on wood chips, making a game of basketball impossible, he envisions young basketball players shooting around or playing “Horse.”
During the installation process, kids have stopped by to test it out. So far, feedback has been positive, even with the tallest hoop 5 feet higher than regulation height.
“They don’t have any problem with it,” Fennell said, adding that it took him some practice to be able to sink a basket with ease.
When he signed on to the project, he quickly realized that in the hoops-crazed Triangle, there could be only one focus.
“It’s all about basketball here,” said Fennell, a native of Birmingham, Ala. His admits he did not have much experience with the sport, something he realized when one visitor swished a ball through only to have it caught in the twisting pole.
Fennell had designed the hoops to fit women’s basketballs.
“I didn’t know there was a difference,” he said.
The piece was to be completed Monday, and Fennel said he would make adjustments so no more basketballs get stuck.
“This is totally experimental,” he said. “It’s ongoing until it works.”
Fennell is used to designing striking works of public art. He is based in Birmingham but travels around the country installing artwork tailored to its location.
He’s not the only out-of-state artist to create works for the city of Raleigh.
Kentucky artist Douwe Blumberg was commissioned recently to create public art for Fire Station 12.
Curry-Evans said the choice of artists from out of state is the decision of an artist selection panel, and that she welcomes local artists to apply.
“We ultimately want to get what we feel will be the best artist for that site,” she said.