Mercedes-Benz Stadium is finally coming into focus as crews make the final preparations for the August 26 Atlanta Falcons preseason game that will officially open the new home of the Falcons and Atlanta United. Keeping with the trend of sports arenas becoming more publicly accessible, multi-use complexes rather than just a place to watch the game, owner Arthur Blank and his team envision the stadium being open almost 365 days of the year, integrating concepts like a full-service restaurant that will be open on non-game days. Another facet that will set this stadium apart is its infusion of art.
“When we decided to build this stadium, we said it was going to be the finest sports entertainment complex in the United States,” Blank said on Friday at a media preview of the art collection. “We wanted to reflect not only the architecture and great design, amenities, and great fan experiences, but also the diversity of our population and the diversity of the arts.”
All told, there will be more than 180 pieces produced by 54 artists, 26 of which were sourced from Atlanta and surrounding areas. 45 percent of the artists are from Georgia, while women represent 24 percent of the artists commissioned. International artists comprised 14 percent of the art produced, including the centerpiece—a massive, angular, metallic Falcon that anchors the main concourse.
That Falcon was the brainchild of Gábor Miklós Szőke, a sculptor from Budapest. With a wingspan of 70 feet, height of 41 feet, and weighing over 36 tons, the hulking installation demands attention. “We knew we needed a signature falcon. We needed something that was descriptive of the architecture of the stadium and supported that vision. So we found Gábor Szőke,” says John Paul Rowan, the vice president for strategy and innovation at Savannah College of Art and Design. “[Szőke] actually studied the flight of falcons and how they attack and land on prey, so that’s the moment that he captured.”
This expansive undertaking took two years and was facilitated by Mercedes-Benz Stadium in partnership with SCAD—who were tasked with curating and overseeing the art collection. From inception they wanted the artists they selected to be indicative of the people of Georgia and visitors to the stadium.
“We started with a lot of research. Interviewed fans, surveyed them, asked what works resonate with them and what would they expect to see in the stadium. We took that data and began researching artists to recommend to the [Arthur Blank Foundation] art committee,” Rowan explains of the process. “Hundreds of artists were considered for the project. We did an open call for Georgia artists as well.”
That search yielded creatives like Radcliffe Bailey, the renowned Southwest Atlanta artist whose works have been showcased at the High Museum of Art, among others. His piece “Conduits of Contact” spans over 84 feet on the 100-level concourse and is an intricate mix of media centered around Atlanta, the black experience, memory, and history, focusing on the migration of Africans to America and African Americans across the country. Bailey laments, “90 percent of images I use are of people I don’t know because they’ve been discarded by history.”
What ties his work to the stadium is his use of historic photos from Atlanta’s HBCUs. He delved through Emory’s Robert Langmuir African American photograph collection to find old tintype photographs to incorporate in his piece. Bailey saw the opportunity to work with the Blank foundation and SCAD as an opportunity to “drop a marker to note my existence. [It’s hard to get] typical people to look at your work. More people will look at art here than at an actual museum.”
Melody Postma’s mural “Love of the Game” continues the theme of mixing archived images into a collage. Her style is admittedly pop, replete with fun action typography and quirky colors meant to reflect the energy and excitement of a football game. She takes a nostalgic look at the origins of the Falcons, electing to use photos from 1968 and 1969, when the team was in its infancy. She also highlights the Falcons’ evolving logo and includes a ticket stub from the first season. “I wanted to pay homage to the beginning. The blue stripes are meant to represent the rising up,” she explains.
Melody, one of the 20 SCAD alumni commissioned for this project, has four other pieces on display in the stadium in addition to the large mural. “I’m proud to be a part of this, and I think SCAD knocked it out of the park bringing in so many artists,” she says.
Not to be left out, the stadium also features soccer-themed art for Atlanta United. The most notable will be a 35-foot-tall soccer ball in the Home Depot Backyard—a green space that will be dedicated to tailgating during home games and a mixed-use community space at other times. Another standout soccer piece is the aptly titled “Golden Goal,” a large hand-painted mural brushed with gold acrylic by Atlanta artist and SCAD alumnus Jimmy O’Neil.