Color me tickled at Mayor Kenney’s announcement that the statue of Frank Rizzo will be moved to another location.
It’s not that I think the Big Bambino doesn’t deserve to be on Thomas Paine Plaza, where he’s been hailing a taxi (or is he ordering a crumb bun? I’ve always wondered) since the statue was installed in 1999 on New Year’s Day.
I just think the guy has been there long enough. It’s time to give another worthy piece of art a turn on the super-visible, heavily trafficked plaza.
More than 750 sculptures, fountains, mosaics and memorials grace the city’s public buildings and parks but many are stuck in obscure places, appreciated only by those who happen to stumble upon them.
Take sculptor John Massey Rhind’s magnificent Tedyuscung, for example, which depicts a Native American, a Lenape. Since 1902, Tedyuscung has taken a knee, squinting into the sun just off Forbidden Drive in the Wissahickon Valley. He looks majestic there, hugged by thick foliage. But Philadelphians who never wander the trail near Rex Avenue will never see him.
Why not switch him out for Rizzo for a while?
Our 93rd mayor would get to hang out in the woods near his former Chestnut Hill home, and more Philadelphians would get to know a Native American important to this area’s history. Sure, Tedyuscung might seem out of place downtown – there’s nothing woodsy about 15th and JFK. But no more so than does Claes Oldenburg’s gigantic Clothespin at 15th and Market, where, as far as I know, no one hangs much laundry these days.
Or what about “American War Mother and Her Sons” (artist unknown, it appears), which squats in Wistar Woods on Belfield Avenue near Ogontz? It depicts a woman whose arms are draped protectively over the shoulders of two weary-looking young men.
Switching her with Rizzo would accomplish two things: We’d be reminded that every solider is missed by a loved one when they’re deployed (a good thing to ponder these dangerous days), and we’d finally get a sculpted female image in a city whose monuments are a boys’ club.
And Rizzo would exchange the bus fumes of 15th and JFK for the chirping birds of Wistar.
See how much sense this makes?
Laura Griffith doesn’t. She’s the friendly associate director of Philly’s Association for Public Art, and I asked her what she thought of moving less-known, practically hidden Philly sculptures to Rizzo’s Center City perch.
“Your idea is interesting conceptually, but you’d soon hit on a big problem,” she said. “The cost to relocate a large work can be prohibitively expensive, in some cases almost equal to what it would cost to commission a new work.”
There’s also the very real risk that the move itself would affect the safety and condition of the art.
“Cranes might be involved, especially with heavy works of heavy metals or even stone,” she said. “You don’t know how you might harm a work” that has suffered so much unseen weather damage — for example, that a move might crack the sculpture into bits and pieces.
She also has an issue of moving a sculpture from the setting it was designed to enhance.
“Sculptures are site-specific,” she said, specifically noting the placement of The Cowboy, the only large bronze by Frederic Remington which is tucked high on the north side of Kelly Drive, near the Girard Avenue Bridge.
Remington himself selected the site for the iconic work, which is so lifelike it appears the cowboy’s steed is about to throw its rider over the ledge the sculpture sits on.
OK, OK. I get it. But we’ve moved statues before — and they’ve done fine.
In 1920, the city moved Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ The Pilgrim from the South Plaza of City Hall, where it had been installed in 1905, to its present location on Boathouse Row. And in 2002, we moved Randolph Rogers’ 1871 sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, from a traffic circle on Kelly Drive to a small park next to it.
Both fit so well in their second locations, it feels like they were always there.
I think it could be that way on Paine Plaza with Tedyuscung or American War Mother and Her Sons or any number of sculptures that languish unnoticed around the city.
And with Rizzo, too, no matter where he winds up.