Oldenburg’s Paint Torch Lights up Philadelphia’s Sky
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts celebrated the completion of its new civic space, Lenfest Plaza, with PAFA’s Party on the Plaza on Saturday, October 1, 2011. The celebration culminated at sunset with the inaugural lighting of Paint Torch, a sculpture by world-renowned American artist Claes Oldenburg.
PAFA’s Party on the Plaza featured activities and entertainment for all ages. The afternoon Family Arts Festival included free art activities and other kid-friendly entertainment from noon until 5 p.m. PAFA offered complimentary admission to the Historic Landmark Building and free museum tours to hundreds of visitors. As evening descended, visitors were invited to witness the sunset Paint Torch lighting ceremony. Torch Club, a patron cocktail reception and dinner inside PAFA’s Hamilton Building kicked off later in the evening, followed by a late-night dance After Party on the plaza.
The installation of Oldenburg’s towering 51-foot high sculpture in the form of an illuminated paintbrush will make Philadelphia home to four large-scale public sculptures by the artist, more than any other city in the world. PAFA will present works by other artists in a second space on the plaza for rotating displays.
About Lenfest Plaza
Designed by Philadelphia-based, internationally renowned landscape architecture firm OLIN, led by project architect and OLIN partner David A. Rubin, Lenfest Plaza offers an inviting space for visitors to Philadelphia, city residents, students, museum goers and art lovers. The plaza design includes a stage, a three-part serpentine bench, mosaic pavers, a platform for temporary sculpture, plantings, displays, lighting, and eventually tables for outdoor dining.
The 24-hour pedestrian plaza on the grounds of the Academy will be open year-round and will play host to public events and feature outdoor seating and an upscale restaurant, which will look out onto the plaza from the ground level of PAFA’s contemporary Samuel M.V. Hamilton Building (restaurant details to be announced). Together, Lenfest Plaza and Oldenburg’s Paint Torch will establish the public space as a new cultural attraction and Philadelphia destination.
Lenfest Plaza occupys half a block of Cherry Street (between North Broad and Carlisle), which was permanently closed by the City of Philadelphia on February 2, 2011 to make way for the new civic space. Lenfest Plaza is located directly across from the entrance of the new Convention Center expansion, expected to host 1.5 million visitors annually. As the start of the “Museum Mile”, Lenfest Plaza will not only be a destination and gathering place, it will also connect convention-goers and the public on North Broad with the museums on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway: the Barnes Foundation (opening in 2012), the Academy of Natural Sciences, The Franklin Institute, the Rodin Museum, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Lenfest Plaza is made possible by a generous gift from Marguerite and H. F. Gerry Lenfest with additional financial support from the City of Philadelphia and many other generous patrons. The project holds special significance to Marguerite Lenfest, a PAFA board member. Marguerite’s grandfather was a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and her great-great-grandfather, a painter, exhibited at the Academy.
About Paint Torch in Philadelphia
Installed at a daring 60-degree diagonal position, the 51-foot high Paint Torch sculpture by Claes Oldenburg stands on the point of its handle in a gravity-defying gesture. Nearby on the Plaza floor is a six-foot high “glob” of paint, part of which the brush has lifted into the sky in a depiction of the act of painting a picture. The “Glob” and “Blip” at the tip of the brush are both illuminated from within at night by changing red hues.
The startling 60-degree angle of Paint Torch is unusual in the vertical-horizontal structure of a large city, such as Philadelphia. The sculpture protrudes into the space of Broad Street, visible against the background of City Hall, within Lenfest Plaza, between PAFA’s Historic Landmark and Samuel M.V. Hamilton Buildings. Paint Torch acts as a beckoning gesture to enter the plaza and proceed where the plaza leads, to the Museum Mile of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
PAFA commissioned Oldenburg to create the new work, which celebrates the spirit of the Academy. The monumental paintbrush points to the growth and vitality of American art, while celebrating a milestone in the history of the Academy, America’s first school of fine arts and museum, founded in 1805. Paint Torch honors the act of painting, from the classical masters in the Museum to the students in the School of Fine Arts, and also, in its spare but voluptuous form, the practice of sculpture, also displayed in the museum and created in the school. Its form also doubles as a torch and a symbol of liberty, homage to the city’s historical significance as the birthplace of America and a leader in the American Revolution.