Bill Tonnesen's Sculptural Oddities at Casa Carmel Apartments in Tempe

If you've driven north on Rural Road toward Broadway in the past five months, you might have seen something strange on the side of the road: Namely, giant silver sculptures that look like those robot performance artists in New York's Times Square.

But these shiny sculptures aren't part of an art gallery or installation. They're actually an art installation in Casa Carmel, an apartment complex recently redesigned by landscape architect Bill Tonnesen.

Yes, the same Bill Tonnesen who pimped a grand underground memorial for Holocaust survivors that never materialized, who wears Oxford shirts with his name embroidered above the pocket, and has a lengthy lawsuit resume (and a puff piece, to boot). You can read the epic tale of Tonnesen in Phoenix New Times' feature "Illusions of Grandeur" from 2005, but we also suggest strolling by Casa Carmel for a look at Tonnesen's, uh, evolution.

The Casa Carmel apartments are located at 2222 S. Rural Road, and were constructed in 1963. And last September, the revamping of the 20-unit, garden-style apartments (Tonnesen-style) began.

His decorations include a rustic metal canister sculpture, complete with an axe that has "Tonnesen" written on the handle, a strange sign featuring a woman holding an altered photo of the Mona Lisa, and two life-size silver statues.

The most prominent statue is a woman in a hooded robe, slouched down with a pensive look on her face.

She's up on a platform facing Rural Road, with an stack of concrete blocks jutting out at various angles below her. It's a dubious display that could be symbolic of anything from the Virgin Mary praying to a beggar nodding out on heroin.

The second statue is an eyeless man in a large hat and jacket, leaning off of the apartment's roof, holding a hand-fan/pin wheel.

Artistic reprieve can be found in the complex's entrance sign, designed by Italian conceptual artist Maurizio Cattelan, and black-and-white pieces that hang outside every unit's door.

Note to would-be renters: The complex is currently full.

This post has been edited from its original version.

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Niki D'Andrea has covered subjects including drug culture, women's basketball, pirate radio stations, Scottsdale staycations, and fine wine. She has worked at both New Times and Phoenix Magazine, and is now a freelancer.
Contact: Niki D'Andrea