The Association for Public Art (aPA), working with New York’s Madison Square Park Conservancy in a first-time collaboration, will bring internationally acclaimed artist Martin Puryear’s Big Blingto Philadelphia as a temporary installation. The sculpture will be installed along Kelly Drive, between Fountain Green Drive and the Connecting Railway and Girard Avenue Bridges (see map) in May and remain on site through November 2017.
The Association for Public Art will host a public celebration welcoming Big Bling on Thursday, June 8, 2017 from 4:30pm to 7pm. This event is free, but please register at apa.ticketleap.com/bigbling. During the event, Puryear will be awarded aPA’s Medal of Honor, which recognizes outstanding achievement in the field of art through notable public service. Previous recipients include artists Mark di Suvero, Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, and Isamu Noguchi, among others. The sculpture will be located near Daniel Chester French and Edward C. Potter’s General Ulysses S. Grant, Frederic Remington’s Cowboy, and Carl Milles’Playing Angels, which were installed by aPA in 1898, 1908, and 1972, respectively.
“Installing Big Bling within an expanse between Kelly Drive and the Schuylkill River will offer a totally different setting from Madison Square Park,” says Penny Balkin Bach, Executive Director and Chief Curator of aPA. “It will provide an opportunity to see the sculpture in a very different context along the riverfront with the Pennsylvania Railroad, Connecting Railway Bridge in the background. Interestingly, the historic stone bridge was built to connect Philadelphia to New York and Washington DC. It’s also the stone bridge that Thomas Eakins painted in Max Schmitt in a Single Scull.”
Rising forty feet high and eliciting many interpretations, Big Bling is Puryear’s largest temporary outdoor sculpture to date. The colossal multi-tiered wood structure is wrapped in chain-link fence and anchored with a gold-leafed shackle near the top. Layers of laminated timbers and plywood stack together to create a form that is both animal-like and abstract with an amoeboid shape in the center. “I tend not to tell people what they’re looking at when they’re in the presence of my work,” says Puryear. “I trust people’s eyes. I trust their imagination.”
Martin Puryear (b. 1941) is an American artist known for creating sculpture that combines modernist abstraction with the traditions of crafts and woodworking. In the 1960s, he volunteered with the Peace Corps in West Africa, where he schooled himself in the region’s indigenous crafts, and his interest in Scandinavian design led him to study at the Royal Academy in Stockholm, Sweden.
“We are thrilled that the sculpture is traveling to Philadelphia through the Association for Public Art,” says Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Martin Friedman Senior Curator of Mad. Sq. Art. “Public art is viewed in the context of full democracy: no admission fees, complete accessibility, open to all. By collaborating with aPA, the sculpture will inspire, engage, and challenge the public from New York to Philadelphia and beyond.” Big Bling was commissioned by Madison Square Park Conservancy’s contemporary art program, Mad. Sq. Art, and was first exhibited in Madison Square Park, New York in 2016.
Philadelphia is home to one of Puryear’s early public works, Pavilion in the Trees. Pavilion was conceived in 1981 as part of the Form and Function program of the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) and installed at the Horticulture Center in 1993. Inspired by the universal longing for a tree house, Pavilion consists of an open structure that uses materials similarly found in Big Bling. The work has become a favorite destination to relax and contemplate nature from a bird’s-eye view. Information about Big Bling and Pavilion in the Trees will be available through the Association for Public Art’s Museum Without Walls™: AUDIO program.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art will display a recently acquired intaglio print by Martin Puryear, Untitled (State 1), published by Universal Limited Art Editions, Inc. The print will be displayed in Gallery 124 of the Museum from Tuesday, June 27, through Sunday, October 15. Additionally, in conjunction with aPA, The Print Center will exhibit Martin Puryear Prints: 1962 – 2016, guest curated by Ruth Fine. “The forms explored in Puryear’s sculpture, often rooted in nature, are equally powerful in his prints,” says Ruth Fine. The exhibition will be on view September 8 – November 18, 2017. An opening reception will be held at The Print Center on Thursday, September 7, 2017. More information at printcenter.org.
The Association for Public Art has two other exciting installations debuting in 2017. This September, aPA, working with guest curator Lance Fung of Fung Collaboratives will present Cai Guo-Qiang: Fireflies to celebrate the centennial of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. A major new work created for Philadelphia by internationally acclaimed artist Cai Guo-Qiang, Fireflies will consist of 27 customized pedi-cabs with clusters of luminous colorful lanterns that will invite the public to actively experience the Parkway at night. Members of the public will be invited to board the vehicles to take free rides from Sister Cities Park to Iroquois Park. In December, Winter Fountains for the Parkway by artist Jennifer Steinkamp will serve as the centerpiece for the Parkway 100 celebration. Commissioned by the Parkway Council with aPA, the installation will include five dazzling and enchanting Winter Fountains, inspired by the signature fountains of the Parkway landscape, glowing with animated video projections informed by the botanical, horticultural, and related collections found in the cultural and educational institutions that line Philadelphia’s grand boulevard.
Join the conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook via #MartinPuryear and #BigBlingPhilly. For more information, visit associationforpublicart.org/bigbling.