From Frank Rizzo’s City Hall Statue to the Clothespin: Philly’s Best and Worst Public Art
The other day a friend and I were walking around the city, taking in all the sights the city has to offer. Okay, okay, actually we were walking around to kill a few hours before Game of Thrones. But as we walked through Washington Square West to Society Hill, what started as a time-waster actually did become a trip taking in Philadelphia’s sights.
We saw some kangaroos. They’re made of metal, and they’re inbetween Spruce and Cypress and 4th and 5th. Despite living downtown for years now, I had never seen them before. We must have passed by a dozen pieces of public art on our walk. Some were familiar, some weren’t; what’s cool about the amount of public art in Center City is there is so much you can almost always find new pieces—even something as large as two metal kangaroos—almost anytime you step outside downtown.
And, so, I present to you ratings of 10 pieces of Center City’s public art. Some are good, some are bad, but I honestly kind of like them all. With so much public art downtown, you’re going to hate some of it. And that’s fun: Both good and bad public art sparks conversation and gives areas a sense of uniqueness. Yes, I’m even happy the 10-foot-tall Frank Rizzo that looks like it’s going to kill us all is downtown. Enjoy!
All the titles of the public art pieces are linked to their page at philart.net, an indispensable resource for anyone interested in Philly’s public art. It’s definitely one of the top 10 websites about the city.
Artist: Harold Kimmelman
Location: Lawrence Court inbetween Spruce and Cypress, Society Hill
Description: Two kangaroos made out of metal
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Clearly, Kimmelman made these kangaroos to celebrate John Newcombe, the Aussie who won Wimbledon that year. Or maybe he was celebrating the end of the White Australia policy?
Here they are, the two kangaroos made out of metal. One is in the middle of a jump and the other has just landed. Neat! Nothing too fancy about it, but, hey, who doesn’t like kangaroos? Looking at Harold Kimmelman’s page on philart.net, he’s done metal sculptures all over the city, including Burst of Joy (just outside the 9th Street entrance to The Gallery) and this fire hat at 56th and Chestnut. Good stuff! On Kimmelman’s website he describes his work: “I usually prefer to work directly with metal developing shapes by heat and pressure, tension and compression.” Yo, dude works hard.
Artist: Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis and Roger White
Location: Municipal Services Building Plaza
Description: A bunch of game pieces: Bingo numbers, generic board game tokens, chess pieces, dominoes and, yes, Monopoly tokens
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Philadelphians love board games!
In my experience when passing by Your Move with friends, the people who hate this public art really hate it. I get it, I guess: At first glance there’s nothing to it at all, just a bunch of board game pieces sitting on a boring ol’ concrete plaza. But last year this artwork took on new meaning when Hasbro eliminated the iron token, replacing it with a cat. Your Move has become a sad testament to how cats have overtaken manual labor as an item of worship in American society. Who knew?
Artist: Sherl Joseph Winter
Location: Delancey Park (aka Three Bears Park)
Description: Three bears
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: I dunno. I assume it’s a Goldilocks reference.
There’s nothing that special about Family of Bears, the sculpture at Delancey Park in Society Hill. Except this: While officially called Delancey Park, every person refer to it as Three Bears Park, for the, um, three bears. Signs at the park even say Three Bears! It’s like how everyone calls Masons Mill Park in Upper Moreland Big Wheel Park, because of the miniature city built for kids to ride their big wheels around in (that’s technically called Safety Town, too). A piece of public art is undoubtedly a success when a park gets re-christened because of it. Well done, Sherl Joseph Winter.
Artist: William King
Location: South Street I-95 overpass
Description: Three giant, metal humanoid monsters
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: One day, metal monsters will destroy us all.
Man, are these things creepy. The three figures—strolling hand-in-hand to South Street to buy some novelty t-shirts and bongs, no doubt—have weird, bowling-pin shaped heads and a leg-to-torso ratio not found in any humans I’ve seen, even Shawn Bradley. Best I can tell, tons of William King pieces have enormous legs. I guess if you’ve found something that works, go ahead. It gets bonus points for being enormous and possibly scaring children, I guess.
Artist: Joe Mooney
Year: Unsure, sometime post-1980
Location: Three Bears Park, a veritable font of sculpture
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Hmmm…
I have no idea what’s going on in this sculpture. Normally I’d try to gauge something from the title of the piece, but this is apparently just called Delancey. Check out Joe Mooney Sculpture’s Facebook page and you see this type of work is his style, and this looks pretty neat I guess. It’s kind of like a bird, I guess? Like a hawk spreading its wings and getting ready to take off from Society Hill. Or maybe this is some sort of commentary on Delancey Street’s rich people. Either way, not bad.
Artist: Zenos Frudakis
Location: In front of the Municipal Services Building
Description: A larger-than-life Frank Rizzo, waving or possibly making a terrible attempt to catch a baseball
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: None, but a few years ago a car hit it.
South Philadelphia’s Italian-Americans were not content to build a regular statue of Frank Rizzo. No, they made a ridiculous 10-feet tall version of a, what, six-foot tall man? They might as well have had William King sculpt it. (To be fair, there is precedent for an Italian-American getting a larger-than-life statue just down the street in front of the Art Museum.) Rizzo’s outstretched arm makes him look like a mafia boss dolling out favors, which is one of this statue’s few upsides.
Artist: Zenos Frudakis
Location: Washington Square
Description: A small bas-relief bust of the late Foglietta
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Tom Foglietta was approximately 1/10th as important to Philadelphia as Frank Rizzo. Aww.
C’mon, I know Tom Foglietta was a mere City Councilman and Congressman (and ambassador to Italy!)… hey, that’s quite impressive! Surely he doesn’t deserve to be that much below Rizzo. Somebody get this man a mural at least.
Artist: Jordan Griska
Location: Lenfest Plaza, next to PAFA
Description: An actual cold-war era airplane that has been recreated as a sculpture crashed on the ground, with plants in it!
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Swords into plowshares, obviously, but also that it’s a really cool piece.
Griska’s artwork—launched the first temporary exhibition of an emerging artist in Lenfest Plaza is the coolest piece of artwork in Center City in some time. Maybe ever! The once-45-foot-long Naval plane is also a planter, stocked with medicinal and edible plants. The edibles go to City Harvest. Some pilots and aviation enthusiasts don’t like it—it is apparently painted in civilian colors instead of military ones—but I don’t see it as glorifying airplane accidents. It’s not here forever, so catch this while you can.
Artist: EvAngelos W. Frudakis
Location: 5th and Chestnut
Description: 12-foot tall bronze sculpture honoring the signers of the Declaration of Independence
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.
Okay, this is a nicely-done sculpture in a cute little courtyard off Independence Mall. It would just be a little monument for tourists if not for one thing: From behind, it looks like The Singer. Much like the statue of William Penn atop City Hall looks erect, from a rear view The Signer is clearly belting out some wicked karaoke. The paper become his microphone in this view. As a tribute to karaoke, I urge you to don’t stop believin’ in this sculpture.
Artist: Claes Oldenburg
Location: Opposite City Hall at 15th and Market streets
Description: It’s a giant clothespin
Inferred hidden meanings, if any: No need to infer! “The Clothespin is intended to relate to the skyscrapers around it, and especially to the soaring freestanding tower of the City Hall,” Oldenburg said.
Is it stupid? Of course it is. It’s a giant clothespin, sitting in the middle of a bustling corner of downtown Philadelphia. (Written like that, it sounds awesome. It’s stupid and awesome.) From behind it matches up with City Hall, and that’s kind of neat even though no one walks behind the Clothespin. But the Clothespin has just become a landmark. Before cell phones, it was a place to meet someone downtown; everyone knew what you meant when you said to meet at the Clothespin. There are other entrances to the subways and railroads in Center City, but none bustles with the activity of vendors, buskers and preachers like the Clothespin. The big clothespin is stupid, but it is ours. Plus, some people really hate it. And it is indescribably funny to see people get all worked up about a giant clothespin. Well done, Oldenburg.