Monday, August 21, 2006

Notice Anything Missing on the Parkway? Philly's Loss is Seagram Building's Gain

I knew something out of the Ordinary was missing last week when I walked through the Calder Sculpture Garden on the Ben Franklin Parkway, but I couldn't immediately put my finger on it. Then it hit me. Ordinary - Alexander Calder's black-and-primary-colored, kinetic sculpture - was gone. How could that happen when it was guarded nightly by a ghostly SpectraGuard van? But sure enough, dear Watson, all that was left was a bare patch of grass on the corner of 22nd Street (see above). It turns out that Ordinary was shipped off May 22 to the plaza in front of Mies van der Rohe's Seagram Building on Park Avenue (below). Philadelphia didn't even get to say goodbye.
It's all very strange - and worrisome. Ordinary was loaned to Philadelphia in 2002 by the Calder Foundation as a good will gesture while it negotiated with the city over the plans for a museum devoted to the work of the great sculptor Alexander Calder and his artist father and grandfather, Philadelphians all. The 19-foot-high, triangular Ordinary, with its little red, blue and yellow triangles dangling from its arm, looked so good on the Parkway in lieu of the museum, that in 2004 the Pew Charitable Trusts paid $5 million to rent 10 more Calder sculptures, a variety of related black pieces from the '70s with swiss cheese holes, for the site. Laurie Olin's office was hired to landscape the two-acre corner, and it produced a magically serene oasis - a miniature, urbanized version of the Storm King grounds for sculpture. The Calder sculptures, which circled Ordinary as if it were the queen bee, looked so much at home amid the ornamental grasses and black-eyed Susans that you almost didn't care whether the museum got built.
Now, there's no chance of that. Negotiations with the Calder Foundation fell apart last September. Nothing seemed amiss at first. Norman Keyes, a spokesman for the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which manages the garden, insists that Ordinary was removed in May as part of a planned rotation. He says the museum is in the process of negotiating a replacement. Gee, if the museum knew back before May 22 - say, in March or April - that Ordinary was going, why didn't it start negotiating for a replacement then? Will the 10 charming Calders end up following Ordinary, to be lined up along Park Avenue instead of nestled amid the Parkway?
Keyes says there is no such plan. The landscaping in the sculpture garden were just replanted, he noted, and Pew's original contract with the Calder Foundation is supposed to run through 2012. Philadelphia has relinquished and replaced two large Calders before: First it had to give up Eagle from its perfect perch on the art museum plaza to Seattle's Art Museum. Then, a piece that had been lent by the Calder Foundation was returned after spending time in the Rodin Museum courtyard. Keyes notes that Ordinary took the place of that sculpture. Its home moved across the parkway after the museum site was designated.
Still, when Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski reported the break down in the Calder Museum negotiations last September, he noted that the city was now in danger of losing the 10 smaller sculptures. We hope not. Philadelphia - not New York - has an unbreakable umbilical tie to the Calder family and their work. Even if the museum is not to be, the sculpture garden is a reminder that one of the 20th Century's greatest artists has a home waiting in Philadelphia.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Patrick D.Hazard said...

I think it is a scandal that Philly can get a Calder Museum together! Stop moving the Barnes and get moving on a three generation Calder walkthrough garden. At the Lousiana Museum north of Copenhagen, there is a cluster of Sandy's between the outdoor cafe and the Oresund that is one of the most satisfying swatches of public sculpture I have ever seen anywhere. If Copenhagen can do it, shame on us (and US) if we can't. Patrick D.Hazard, Weimar, Germany.

12:21 PM  
Blogger HughE2030 said...

Back in July I noted with photos on Phillyblog several Philly iconic items that are now in NYC.
http://www.phillyblog.com/philly/showthread.php?t=20641

And as for Philly not being able to have a Calder Museum they certainly did try. The Calder family was not interested in lending their sculptures to the City on a 99 year lease basis as I recall.

1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of the dutch Daklozen exhibit by the Free Library.

Touching and yet at the same time interactive.

1:26 PM  
Anonymous James K. Goodwin said...

Inga

What is not reported is why the Caldor talks collapsed last September. We know nothing of such as the City chooses to keep it a secret. Instead of getting the Caldor Foundation to build a museum on choice Parkway land, they chose to negotiate until there was nothing left to negotiate. By contrast, we were able to secure the Barnes Museum and the site will not be available until 2009 for construction to start aS the City is building a new building in West Philadelphia to replace the Youth Study Center at a snails pace. We hear nothing about the gross incompetence of the street Administration and the failure to secure the Caldor Museum is glaring.

If Donald Trump was mayor, the Youth Study Center would have been already built in West Philadelphia by now and the site made available for the Barnes in 2006!

1:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i noticed it awhile back, that it was missing. it truly is a shame that the museum is not coming. It should be noted though that the Street Administration had NOTHING to do with that decision. It was the greedy people that own the work.
I don't see why they don't just put a musuem to modern sculpture, and call it the calder, but not be an exclusive Calder museum.

till then, the park deserves more attention.

2:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

get over it! it is still in philly!

4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's all about BIG CASH MONEY... in NYC. Commerce Bank even has a cheap imitation of the LOVE sculpture in front of one of it's branches in the east fifties in Manhattan. Maybe COMCAST can put a Calder in front of it's new building... with all the hefty prices they charge us folks maybe they could build the COMCAT-CALDER Museum.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous VINCEDEAN said...

WHO CARES ? THEY ARE ALL REALLY UGLY, WITH THE EXCEPTION OF THE MOBILE AT THE ART MUSEUM. ONE IS ENOUGH !

8:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for explaining where it went! I was trying to locate it to show a friend visiting from out of town and thought perhaps I had imagined its very existence. I'm sad to see it go.

4:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a bunch of bumbling, egotistical fools--and that includes the Calder family. The mismanagement of the museum negotiations are embarrassing. Everybody get over yourselves and build the museum. Denying the public access to this art so it can be mortgaged to the high bidder is obscene. There is a difference between price and value.

4:42 PM  
Anonymous alessandra5 said...

Perhaps the Calder family came to its senses after seeing the way that Albert Barnes' legacy has been treated by the powers-that-be in Philadelphia.

For a city that prides itself on its history and heritage, the idea of breaking a man's will and eviscerating a unique cultural masterpiece to create a reproduction that can never approach the brilliance of the original, is deeply troubling.

Why would any potential benefactors in Pennsylvania, like the Calder family, trust that their wishes will be honored in the future?

10:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree!! I still can't get over what Philly did to the Barnes legacy. But I feel the main culprits were those arrogant Foundations (can't remember which ones were involved) that pledged tens of millions of dollars if the Barnes moved to Center City. To me that was a gross misuse of philanthropical influence.

10:54 PM  
Blogger entity said...

Guessing why the Calder negotiations failed and immediately blaming the family's greed is ridiculous, we simply don't know what destroyed this possibility. Alexander Calder's support during his lifetime came from almost exclusively outside Philadelphia, it's support for a prodigal son may just be too little, too late.

9:06 AM  
Anonymous VINCEDEAN said...

THE ONLY ARROGANCE IN CONCERN OF THE BARNES FOUNDATION, CAME FROM ALBERT BARNS HIMSELF ! ART BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE ! TO HORDE,ESPECIALLY AFTER DEATH, IS DISCRACEFUL ! MOVING THE COLLECTION TO THE PARKWAY, WHERE PEOPLE CAN ACTUALLY BE ABLE TO VIEW IT IS THE BEST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO SUCH AN IMPORTANT COLLECTION. AS FOR THE CALDERS, THEY OUGHT TO FEEL PRIVLEDGED TO HAVE THE ARTIST'S HOME-TOWN BUILD A MUSEUM HONORING HIM. APPARANTLY THEY DON'T AND THEY ARE STUPID !

12:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

VinceDean, why are you yelling? VinceDean, why are you mispelling?

4:44 PM  
Anonymous Davis said...

Perhaps he's yelling because the demi monde here is so opposed to the sensible move to the Parkway. It's getting tiresome to listen to the unending moaning about Albert Barnes - a certifiable lunatic if there ever was one - and his remarkable collection, which has been neglected and inaccessible for too many years. Barnes himself wanted the works to be accessible to the "people", but was so insanely angry at the former "powers that be" that he created an impossible situation in lovely suburban Merion.

9:24 AM  
Anonymous VINCEDEAN said...

is this better ? I print in upper-case letters. It looks neater ! I'm mispelling because I can't type ! I'm not a very quiet person anyway ! I still think his sculptures are UGLY !!! My opinion doesn't matter, art is subjective.

9:37 AM  
Anonymous VINCEDEAN said...

P.S.
You are RIGHT_ON Davis !

9:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh vincedean and Davis, you have bought the propoganda about Barnes that has been perpetrated by those who are raping and pillaging the art collection. It's a clever tactic--villify Albert Barnes as a certifiable lunatic so that the move of the art collection will free it from the clutches of a madman. I've been told that if such tactics were used against the Frick in New York or the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, there would be demonstrations in the streets.

It's the management of the Barnes that is the problem-- not Albert Barnes.

At best, if the art moves, what will happen is a McDonalds-ization of the Barnes. It can never be replicated-- only diminished and probably destroyed. Most likely, this whole ruse is a way for the Philadelphia Museum of Art to get its hands on the collection.

1:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While it is true that opinions about art are totally subjective, it is also true that such opinions can only be formed by viewing the art. In person. Not in a book or photograph.

4:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know who, how, what or why the Calder sculpture is no longer on the Parkway. I just miss it. I remember how it caught my attention and imagination the first time I saw it after it appeared without fanfare. It's a loss to the Parkway and Philadelphia.

7:41 PM  

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