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The One Non-Ugly Piece Of Philly Public Art From The 1960s Is Being Pulled Out Of Storage Today

   
  
 
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     Free Interpretation of Plant Forms in Bally, PA, 1966. Photograph courtesy of HarryBertoia Foundation. Photograph by Richard Schultz.

Free Interpretation of Plant Forms in Bally, PA, 1966. Photograph courtesy of HarryBertoia Foundation. Photograph by Richard Schultz.

OK, perhaps there was more than one piece of non-ugly public art in Philadelphia produced in the 1960s — Robert Indiana's Love, for instance, for which the city and many others rewarded him with decades of non-licensed merchandise — but you get the drift here. And as you dig around Harry Bertoia's Free Interpretation of Plant Forms (1966) being unveiled on the grounds of the Woodmere Art Museum, you begin to get the distinct impression that the Harry Bertoia is having a moment. Again. 

A few things point to this revival of interest in the work of Bertoia, born in Italy but who spent much of his life locally, and was a cohort of your Knolls, your Herman Miller, and so on: One is the exhibit itself, which opens this week and runs through November. Another is the reality that Harry Bertoia's midcentury American design work — his name has been on the lips of your design nerd friends for years — may have never been more ubiquitous or copied as much as it is today. (Look at your Instagram feed: Harry's in there.) Still more evidence of Bertoia's moment is that his sound sculptures, perhaps the most neglected piece in his vast portfolio of creations, are finally getting recognized for the far-out, visionary promise they offered from day one. To put it mildly, they are majestic and strange:

Here's no less than Sonic Youth's Lee Renaldo wiggin' out on Harry's pipes:

Taken in all, we've got a lot of Bertoia to catch up on. Luckily, it's all right in our backyard. 

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