Actual Factual Georgia: Are pillars the start of something?

Q: What’s the story behind what looks like stone or concrete pillars at the corner of Highland Avenue and Glen Iris Drive? They’ve been there for a while. Is someone going to build something there?

A: You're right.

The columns – 54 of them, to be exact – have been near that intersection since the late 1990s, but they’re not the building blocks or a foundation for another structure.

What you see is it, which is what artist Sol Lewitt wanted when he meticulously placed them there.

54 Columns is a minimalist piece that features the light gray columns, which range from 10 to 20 feet high, and “references the urban environment and Atlanta’s skyline,” states.

There’s no confusing the piece with Studio 54, the infamous NYC nightclub in the 1970s, but it’s easy to see why the pillars could confuse visitors and tourists.

They look like they could be the start or ruins of another building, especially since they’re in the heart of the makeover story that is Old Fourth Ward.

Atlanta visual artist/sculptor and Savannah College of Art and Design professor Gregor Turk told me LeWitt, who died in 2007, worked with concrete masonry units (CMUs), another name for concrete blocks, to complete a work that is “simultaneously lowbrow and highbrow.”

“I particularly enjoy walking through the piece and interacting with the verticality of the columns and the sight lines,” he said.

Turk admitted that it’s not the best location for what he once called a structure, not a sculpture, and was LeWitt’s second choice.

“… It was the land donated to Fulton County for its first public/private public art partnership,” Turk said. “The first (site) was ruled out due to safety issues. Had it been on knoll or separated from the buildings behind it, I believe it would be better appreciated.”

You can interact with the columns by walking between them and local dance company gloATL has performed there.

And they haven’t been safe from vandals.

One was painted what was called Pepto-Bismol pink in 2005, shortly after some neighbors planted dogwoods between the columns.

Fulton County quickly removed the trees and the pillar was soon returned to its original color, Creative Loafing reported at the time.

Less is more when it comes to 54 Columns.

Turk (, who teaches sculpture, sometimes takes his students there and leads public art tours that make a stop at 54 Columns.

“This thing is amazingly built. It’s really straight,” Turk said in a video tour (

). “Just looking at the lines of this piece, walking through the piece at different times of day, is really a remarkable experience.”