Public art in Philadelphia

On this trip to Philadelphia, I decided to skip going to one of the traditional art museums in the city for a bit of a different experience.  The city has something called the “Museum Without Walls” which is a program of the public art around Philly.  There’s an iPhone app with commentary and maps for all of the city’s public art installations.  With some great weather days, I got a healthy dose of fresh air and interesting art while walking off those delicious cheesesteaks.  Here are some of my favourite pieces from the city center area.

Across from the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Lenfest Plaza is “Paint Torch” by Claes Oldenburg.  I really liked Oldenburg’s installations I’ve seen in Denver and Seattle so was excited to see this one before heading into my conference across the street:

Paint Torch

Also in Lenfest Plaza is “Grumman Greenhouse” by Jordan Griska.   He took a naval plane, folded parts of it to have it appear as if it crashed into the platform, and turned it into a greenhouse.  Medicinal plants and food are grown within the plane which are used to help low-income residents of Philadelphia:

Grumman Greenhouse

Another prominent Oldenburg installation is located right across from City Hall.  It’s “Clothespin”.  By day, it has a weathered and rusted appearance.  I’m more fond of it at night as it is illuminated by red lights.  This piece, commissioned in May 1974,  is as old as I am:


Just a few steps away from the giant clothespin is “The Triune” by Robert Engman:


The reason there is so much public art in Philadelphia is largely due to the “Percent for Art” program which has mandated that development projects dedicate a percentage of their overall footprint to public art and education programs.  I love this idea, and in Philadelphia, it really adds to the urban landscape.

Close to my hotel on 17th Street is the pop-art “Brushstroke Group” by Roy Lichtenstein.  Interestingly, the law firm occupying the adjacent building worked to bring this to the small park in front of their office:

Brushstroke Group

One of the great things about public art in Philadelphia is the mix of whimsy, education and history in the pieces.  Perhaps this comes together nowhere better than just across from City Hall in the Municipal Services Building Plaza.  Here, to the left, is “Government of the People” by Jacques Lipchitz.  Surrounding that is “Your Move” by Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis and Roger White.

Government of the People and Your Move

Another view of “Your Move” shows the over-sized game pieces scattered across the plaza.  This is an installation that many in Philly really don’t like.  Me? I’m kind of a fan of this.  It’s a huge installation wrapping around about 2/3 of the Municipal Services Building:

Your Move

This is probably the most or second most famous of Philadelphia’s public art pieces – “Love” by Robert Indiana.  It’s the gateway to the Ben Franklin Parkway.  Usually you have to queue up to get a picture of this, but on this early morning walk, I had the place to myself:


Continuing down the Ben Franklin Parkway, there are a number of interesting installations.  First is “Monument to Six Million Jewish Martyrs” by Nathan Rapoport – a piece with an intertwined message of suffering and hope:

Philadelphia Holocaust Memorial

Continuing along the wide boulevard, I next came to “Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points” by Henry Moore.  This is a more than 1 tonne bronze sculpture.  I was most interested in the gentle balance of the form on the three points:

Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points

I’ve written before of my love of Alexander Calder sculptures.  His works, including those I’ve previously encountered in Seattle and in Denmark, always bring back early childhood memories of his “L’Homme” in Montreal that I first saw on a trip with my Dad back in the early eighties.  Until this trip, I didn’t realize Calder was a native of Philadelphia.  Below is “Three Discs, One Lacking” in a small park just off the parkway:

Three Discs, One Lacking

In the centre of Logan Square is “Swann Memorial Fountain”, an iconic image of Philadelphia.   It’s long been a place where kids come on hot summer days to cool off.  On this day with the temperature just above the freezing mark, I was more than happy to just sit on a bench for a few minutes and watch the fountain:

Swann Fountain

At the far end of the Ben Franklin Parkway near the Art Museum is “Iroquois” by Mark di Suvero.  This is another artist whose works I really enjoy.   Iroquois is very similar to his installations I’ve visited in Seattle and Denver over the past few years:


Right at the end of the parkway is the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  If you climb the stairs (or run up them a la Rocky, just don’t call them the “Rocky Stairs”, the locals hate this) and turn around, you get this great view back toward center city and the George Washington Monument:

George Washington Monument

If you’ve read this far, you may have noticed I’ve missed one of the most famous statues in Philadelphia.  Located in front of the art museum, the statue of Rocky, cult hero of Philadelphia, presides over the steps he famously ran up as part of his training regime.   On this Halloween morning, the true sense of humour of Philadelphia shines through as someone has provided a costume for the fictional heavyweight champion.  This personifies why I love the city of Philadelphia:



3 thoughts on “Public art in Philadelphia

  1. Pingback: Roy Lichtenstein Featured on Pop Art HeavenPop Art Heaven

  2. Pingback: Looking back on 2013 | Travels and Football

  3. Pingback: Public art in the Loop | Bluenose Traveler

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