Hooray for Public Art!

This past fall, my schedule worked out so that I was home with my son on Mondays. To give us both something to do, I decided to start taking him to a toddler story hour at our branch of the local library. We would walk there since it’s such a pleasant walk, winding past the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the stretches of green space that lie between a couple of major roadways. It was on these walks to the library that I first noticed Roxy Paine’s Symbiosis, a stainless steel tree, broken and supported by another smaller tree. I knew nothing about this sculpture at the time, but I always admired it as I walked to and from the library. And I continue to admire it today.

Roxy Paine, Symbiosis, The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 2011
Roxy Paine, Symbiosis, The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, 2011

Symbiosis is captivating on many levels. It expertly brings together contradictory things: vulnerability and strength, the natural and the industrial, the personal and the universal. Its setting enhances its power. Located on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on a fragile strip of grass and trees that is locked between two busy roads, even its site is contradictory. It is at once quiet & pastoral and rushed & urban. It might sound corny, but the sculpture really speaks to me. (Part of this is owed to my personal weakness for trees in art, but that is a discussion for another day.)


A few weeks ago, I heard about this sculpture in the news. The sculpture I have so admired had been temporarily installed in June 2014, but thanks to a grant, the Association for Public Art has permanently acquired the piece and it will remain indefinitely. This is a great boon to the city of Philadelphia! If you are in the city, I encourage you to visit it.

Paine has done a whole series of these stainless steel treelike structures, which he calls “Dendroids.” Last November I saw his Graft, which was commissioned by the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. for its sculpture garden. It’s just as moving as Symbiosis and for similar reasons. Check it out if you’re in Washington. If you’re not in Washington or Philadelphia, you can still see his work. His “Dendroids” are installed all over the world, from Kansas City to Munich.

Public art is such a fabulous gift that our cities give to us, but we so often walk right by public art, not even noticing it. I encourage you to pay attention to the art around your city. Take a look and think about what the artist is trying to do. Consider why your city saw fit to allow the work to be displayed. Even if you don’t like the aesthetics of the work, I guarantee that you’ll gain something from stopping and noticing. And, as was the case with me and Roxy Paine’s Symbiosis, you might even find yourself moved on a deeper level. Hooray or public art!

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