Paint Torch Is Newest Public Art in Philadelphia

by  Jim Weaver

The oldest art school in America, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia is the site of the city’s newest public sculpture.  The 51 foot tall “Paint Torch” by acclaimed artist Claes Oldenburg is located on PAFA’s Lenfest Plaza directly opposite the main entrance of the Pennsylvania Convention Center on North Broad Street.  It was formally dedicated on October 1, 2011.

The installation of Oldenburg’s Paint Torch makes Philadelphia home to four large-scale public sculptures by this famed artist, more than any other city in the world. A site-specific sculpture commissioned by PAFA for Lenfest Plaza, Paint Torch is the artist’s first large-scale work to incorporate light sources.

The Paint Torch was installed last August. The giant blue and orange colored structure is the centerpiece of Lenfest Plaza and honors the act of painting, from the classical masters in the Academy Museum to the students in PAFA’s School of Fine Arts. The sculpture, at a 60 degree diagonal position, protrudes into the space on Broad Street, and is visible against the background of City Hall. Located underneath the paintbrush is a 6-foot high orange paint glob.

Oldenburg titled the work Paint Torch, merging two ideas in this project: the paintbrush and the torch. He stated that the paintbrush is a good fit for PAFA to “celebrate a place where painting with a brush is really practiced.” Thus the paintbrush refers to location as well as identifies the activities of the School.

Overseeing the installation of the sculpture was artist Claes Oldenburg. Also present were Bill Kreysler, who fabricated the Paint Torch (as well as 16 other Oldenburg sculptures), and Jen Lewin, the artist who collaborated with Claes Oldenburg to engineer and illuminate the Paint Torch.

Lenfest Plaza is located directly between the Academy’s Historic Landmark and Samuel M.V. Hamilton buildings. The new outdoor civic space (made possible following the closure of a portion of Cherry Street) offers public seating and changing exhibitions of works of emerging and established artists in an urban setting. The plaza was designed by David A. Rubin (a recent Rome Prize) recipient of the internationally renowned landscape architecture firm OLIN.

Lenfest Plaza is made possible by a generous gift from PAFA patrons Marguerite and H. F. Gerry Lenfest with additional financial support from the City of Philadelphia and many other generous patrons.

In 1976, as part of the city’s celebration of the American Bicentennial,  Oldenburg’s iconic sculpture the “Clothes Pin” was dedicated.  This famous work stands at 15th and Market Street in center City Philadelphia directly opposite City Hall.

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America’s first school of fine arts and museum.  A recipient of the 2005 National Medal of Arts presented by the President of the United States, it is a recognized leader in fine arts education. Nearly every major American artist has taught, studied, or exhibited at the Academy. The institution’s world-class collection of American art continues to grow and provides what only a few other art institutions in the world offer: the rare combination of an outstanding museum and an extraordinary faculty known for its commitment to students and for the stature and quality of its artistic work.

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