PUBLIC ART AROUND TOWN
Public art is to Philadelphia today like grunge music was to Seattle in the early ‘90s—It’s everywhere. While traversing this city, colorful things undoubtedly catch the eye. Here’s where to start.
The work of sculptor Martin Puryear is not new to Philly. His “Pavilion in the Trees”—literally, a pavilion in a grove of trees in Fairmount Park— is a favorite place for locals to enjoy nature. But Puryear’s latest masterpiece, named “Big Bling,” is a 40-foot-tall, multitier wood structure with adorning gold-leafed shackle that stands on view along Kelly Drive, between Fountain Green Drive and the Connecting Railway and Girard Avenue Bridges, for six months beginning in June. The commissioned work is Puryear’s largest and was first installed in NYC’s Madison Square Park.
CALDER FAMILY WORKS
Three generations of this talented family are represented across Philadelphia. Gawk at the bronze Swann Memorial Fountain by Alexander Stirling Calder created in memoriam of the founder of the Philadelphia Fountain Society. Then check out the 37-foot-tall statue of William Penn by Alexander Milne Calder—you can’t miss it for its perch atop City Hall. A visit to Philadelphia Museum of Art means a look at Alexander “Sandy” Calder’s “Ghost,” haunting Grand Stair Hall.
MURAL ARTS PROGRAM
Mural Arts Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public art program and it’s the reason that there are thousands of painted works adorning the streets and public spaces of this city. A walking tour down Mural Mile provides two hours of colorful sightseeing past pieces like “Personal Melody” completed by twin graffiti artists How and Nosm, and “The Father of Modern Philadelphia,” by Gaia, depicting urban planner Edmond Bacon.
There are a multitude of statues honoring historical figures in Philly and a small concentration of them can be found just outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The gathering of Revolutionary War heroes includes General Casimir Pulaski, General Friedrich von Steuben, Marquis de Lafayette, General Nathanael Greene and General Richard Montgomery. Of course, there is one man whose face enhances a dozenplus places in town: Founding father Benjamin Franklin.
Many of Philly’s public art pieces have a pleasing aesthetic— even if the mind asks ‘what is that?’ One such wonder is “Symbiosis” by Roxy Paine at Iroquois Park. Blurring the line between natural and artificial, the branching structure alludes to collisions in nature and the precarious relationships these encounters create. Mark di Suvero’s “Iroquois” at Eakins Oval is a fieryred mastery of steel. Then, of course, there is Robert Indiana’s iconic “LOVE” sculpture, which has been representing the very essence of founder William Penn’s “phileo” (love) “adelphos” (brother) at John F. Kennedy Plaza since 1976. (“LOVE” has been moved for restoration until September).
From lions and elephants outside the zoo to Albert Laessle’s billy goat in Rittenhouse Square (aptly titled “Billy”), Philly celebrates the animal kingdom. Even the Macy’s downtown boasts the large, bronze “Eagle” by August Gaul. Jacques Lipchitz’s “Prometheus Strangling the Vulture” wrestles outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art, while 30 brushed stainless steel fish, part of Magdalena Abakanowicz’s “Open Air Aquarium,” school at Penn’s Landing.
Head to South Street, where Isaiah Zager’s Magic Gardens entrances viewers with a colorful collage created of ceramics, bottles, bicycle pieces and other trinkets. It is urban renaissance at its finest.
Mural Arts “Big Bling” Magic Gardens