November 10, 2022

The Giant Eyeball in Dallas: A History of the Big Blue Eye

By Paul William

November 10, 2022

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Oozing with quirkiness, Dallas is no stranger to wonderfully unusual sculptures. From colossal tin sheet robots to a mythical chimaera comprised of Texan staple livestock, the city has it all.

But an eyeball? Incredulous.

Yet, as you stroll around downtown, you will undoubtedly notice the giant eyeball of Dallas.

This three-story-high oculus looks as if it popped out and fell off the massive eye socket of one of the skyscrapers towering over it, a little bloodshot but gleaming proudly under the sun.

So, how did this iconic masterpiece end up (rolling?) in the middle of the city? Let’s find out the intriguing details behind the eye-catching – no pun intended – Dallas giant eyeball.

What is the giant eyeball in Dallas?

A large sculpture of an eye in dallas

As the name implies, the giant eyeball in Dallas is a massive sculpture of a human eye, complete with a realistic blue iris, striated red veins, and all.

The structure stands 30 feet tall on a grassy garden and is modeled after the actual eye of its artist, Tony Tasset.

Construction of this unique artwork began in 2007 as part of a temporary exhibit in Chicago in the summer of 2010. It collected dust in storage for a few years, making a brief appearance at the Laumeiere Sculpture Park in St. Louis until the swanky Joule Hotel bought it in 2013 as part of their art collection.

Since then, the Dallas eyeball has become a social media sensation, attracting thousands of visitors annually and generating loads of goofy theories about its meaning. 

Where is the big eye in Dallas located?

The eye address: 1601 Main St, Dallas, TX 75201

The Eye lies on the courtyard of the five-star Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas, off Main Street, where the 15-story, neoclassical Praetorian building, regarded as the tallest building in Texas until 1912, used to stand.

In 2013, the Joules demolished the Praetorian to make way for a garden and the hotel’s extensive art collection, which includes original pieces by Adam Fuss, Andy Warhol, Tony Cragg, and Richard Philips.

The Dallas giant eyeball is the first, and perhaps the most popular, artwork that the Joule installed on the lush grounds. 

The spot where the Eye sits also hosts several private events, such as weddings, parties, yoga classes, and the annual Dallas Art Fair’s closing soiree. If you’re merely dropping by for a quick look, you can view and photograph the sculpture from the street, but you can’t get close to it as it sits in a gated and locked area.

What material is the Dallas Eye made of?

The 30-feet-high Dallas giant eyeball has 25 pieces and is made of fiberglass, resin, and steel and rendered in oil paint.

According to Tasset, the eye is a replica of his own. So, in a way, the artist is permanently keeping an eye on Dallas downtown.

A fixture on Main Street, the structure is reminiscent of old-school road signs, ancient pole totems, and even religious symbols. The result is a spectacular display that is, frankly, both freaky and grand.

How much did the Big Dallas Eyeball cost to build?

While I couldn’t find any published costs of originally constructing the eye, here’s a bit more history on how it ended up at its current location:

The Chicago Loop Alliance’s Art Loop program commissioned the creation of the Eye as an exhibit in the city’s Pritzker Park in the summer of 2010.

In 2013, the sculpture found its way into Dallas when the billionaire owner of the Joule Hotel, Tim Headington, bought it for an undisclosed amount. 

The Headington Companies has invested over half a billion dollars for the redeveloping and beautification of downtown Dallas within the past years.

Apart from the Eye, it is also responsible for several design-centric destinations around the Joules Hotel area. These include a commissary, a chic café, a trendy boutique, a hip restaurant, and a market covered in 27,000 ceramic tiles.

How was the eye damaged and how much does it cost to repair?

Following the death of George Floyd in May 2020, which sparked mass demonstrations worldwide, the big eye in Dallas was tagged with graffiti during a protest. Spray-painted on the sculpture were Floyd’s initials along with his words, “I can’t breathe,” and the message, “Now UC US.”

Repair and cleaning began in December of the same year. There were also some chips and cracks that required fixing. The hotel completed the full restoration in March 2021, with Tasset overseeing the final phase of the repair. The process cost over $100,000.

According to Jeny Bania, spokesperson for the Joule, the hotel will “be enhancing (their) electronic and personal oversight of the art.”

What is the meaning behind this artwork?

For a blatantly bizarre artwork, the giant eyeball in Dallas must also have an equally intriguing backstory.

But no.

Tasset claims there is no deep symbolism or profound meaning behind it. Nothing mysterious. Nothing hidden.

The artist says he “just wanted to make something awesome,” pointing out that he wants people to understand his public works, and the Dallas eye could mean “whatever you want.” 

“Eye is one of those images that has taken on a number of meanings over the years. God and consciousness are just two of them,” Tasset added. 

One obvious thing is the sculpture echoes pop culture and beauty in the unexpected. But whether you see the artwork as a reference to Big Brother’s constant surveillance, Pharaoh’s protective eye, or a wacky Halloween ornament, you can’t deny that it is a larger-than-life spectacle.

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