Art in the Age of Railroad Parkification
BY JARED BREY
We suspect that most Philadelphians, asked to name their favorite piece of public art, would immediately respond by naming their least favorite. Partially this is because Philadelphians are magnetized toward cynicism, self-deprecation, and complaint. Partially it’s because our city is awash in ugly public art.
Much of what we have, at least of the stuff that’s been built in the last few decades, is made possible by the Percent for Art Program, which requires investment in new artworks for projects that use land assembled by the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority. It’s the program that brought us Light Play, the glass installation above the subway entrance at Broad and South streets, the Liberty Bell-looking Wave Forms in front of the Starbucks at 34th and Chestnut, and the weird featureless fishes on flagpoles on Columbus Boulevard. Some of the art produced by this program enriches its environment, some of it is highly questionable, but all of it is unmistakably Philadelphian.
And as the long-vacant Reading Viaduct gets made over into an elevated park, some new public art will be placed alongside. The proposal, before the Philadelphia Art Commission on Wednesday morning, is called Chorus Dawn. It is inspired by the distinctive system of utility poles and overhead wires that line the viaduct, and it’s the creation of artist Brent Wahl and poet Laynie Browne.
"The cross bars will hold aluminum casts of seven bird forms—red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet—colors that represent the visible spectrum,” the artists wrote in their proposal. “At the end of each beam is a reflective surface able to subtly mirror the colorcast of the sky."
At the base of the pole will be textual elements.
Philadelphia’s public art, like Philadelphia, is a mixed bag. Whatever you think of the Percent for Art program’s track record, we have to come down on the side of more art.