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The Philadelphia Inquirer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania • Page 236

Location:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Issue Date:
Page:
236
Extracted Article Text (OCR)

ven sculptor Claes Oldenburg calls it "The Clothespin," though he insists that his famous sculpture in Cen Li i I I. h. no ciiy continued from Page 13 where the real people live. And, lastly, he took to City Hall. His campaign stretched through winter to spring, when on-location shooting began for the third very similar, but very successful film about the lovable palooka from South Philly.

The statue was erected, right on top of the Art Museum steps. It was exciting. Gorman actually met his hero on location for one of the scenes. "I told him that I just wanted him to know that not everybody in Philadelphia feels the same way as the art commission." Gorman's wide face lights up with the memory. "Stallone reacted.

He said he couldn't make heads nor tails as to why they were so taken off, so not willing to accept it I think he respects the character enough to want to see the character rest where he most relates, and the best place for that statue I don't care what anyone else says is still the Art Museum steps." Seeing the uplifted arms of that bronzed champion really fired Gorman up, but the feeling was short-lived. The art commission was willing to keep the statue or store it or who knows what after the filming was over, but Stallone's movie crew quietly disassembled the statue at 5 am. one day and took it home. It had been standing only three days. By the summer of 1981, the campaign was dragging.

No one seemed to know the exact whereabouts of the genuine Work of Art Gorman had signatures, signatures, signatures. They were easy enough to get But progress well progress was harder to come by. He took to haunting the offices of the art commission. Maybe a common man could talk some sense into these people. "He nearly drove me crazy in here," recalls Kathleen H.

McKenna, art commission director. "I kinda like the guy. He's a colorful character, an interesting individual He had a point well taken. He would say," and McKenna attempts an impersonation of Gorman's gruffer voice, 'Look, lady, let me put it to you this way. What we've got here is a statue that the public can relate That's basically what he had to say." But McKenna was hardly in a position to influence the Guardians of Good Taste.

She listened sympathetically to Gorman and tried to tell him gently that what he hoped to accomplish was just plain impossible. Indeed, things were looking bad It was like in the scene from Rocky, the original Rocky, the big fight scene, where the hero has been knocked down. His eyes are swollen almost shut and bleeding. His head reels. He reaches desperately for the ropes.

Gorman's 40 viewings of the film had prepared him well for McKen-na's disparaging words. "When she told me the statue would never stand on top of the steps, that did it That took any doubt away. I wasn't going to be beat so easily. I figured, this is it Now I go for broke. I took a job, and I was going to finish it I was in the arena, right? I was the one who was going to do this thing, right? People were counting on me.

I had all those signatures. Kids would stop me on the street tbc Champion of Controversy tre Square is not just a super-sized version of what you'd pin on a clothesline. "Go ahead, get a regular clothespin and hold it up next to the sculpture. Compare them," he suggests. "You will see.

they are not identical The clothespin in your hand is shaped entirely by its function, whereas my sculpture is anti-functional There is a difference. I took the elements of a clothespin and rearranged them. For instance, the proportions of the sculpture are elongated when compared to a clothespin. I think it's interesting if people want to reflect on the differences between a regular clothespin and my work." After all what is art, anyway? Public art usually forces the question on everyone who walks by. To Art Gorman, the Kensington man who saved the Rocky statue, "art is in the eye of the beholder!" Art knows what he likes.

He likes the Rocky statue. But the Clothespin? He is silent at first Then he twists his face about 25 degrees off center. He clears his throat "I think I think it's er, questionable item. Questionable as to, ah, the significance it holds with Philadelphia. One would have to think for about 10 years about why Philadelphia has a giant clothespin.

But I don't like to hear myself putting it down. That's like putting me in the same position as the art commission, you know? I don't like it I never got turned on by a clothespin, you know? You use it to hang up clothes, right? That's it I've asked people what it you know, represents, but nobody has ever been able to tell me." Now he's getting worked up. "You think of all the great things that have happened in this city, and somebody who, for some ungodly reason, wants to put up something like that that makes us a laughingstock to the rest of the world. I mean, what kind of city do people think this is, with a giant clothespin in the middle of it? It's in poor taste, you know?" Gorman and Anne d'Harnon-court, the new director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, are in basic disagreement over aesthetics. She was dead against putting the Rocky statue atop the museum steps.

But she likes the Clothespin. A lot "I think it's exciting because, in part, of its unexpectedness. In a way, it stands as a substitute for what one thinks of as a classic public sculpture of a man on a horse or with a gun. I think a lot of people look at it and first see an abstract design, and only later realize it is a clothespin. The site is quite wonderful I think, the way it soars up from out of that subway stop.

The soaring aspect of it fits perfectly with City Hall right across the street which is a kind of elegant sculpture in itself. You have the analogy to the City Hall theme, the soaring quality, it's funny, and it happens to have a very strong abstract shape." First District City Councilman Jimmy Tayoun, who lent Gorman's cause legislative support, thinks the Clothespin "is a clothespin." But so what? "I used one on my outrigger just the other day." Kathleen McKenna, director of the art commission that rejected plans to keep Rocky on the museum steps, thinks the Clothespin is great (though she's not exactly sure why). "I like the clothespin! I have met Claes Oldenburg. I think it's a very prolific piece handled by a very prolific artist It is a very controversial piece by a very controversial artist What is controversial art? Who There is one person, however, whose tastes are broad enough to admire both works. A.

Thomas Schomberg, who sculpted the Rocky statue and says he "admires the hell" out of his own work, also admires the Clothespin. "Claes Oldenburg is one of the most important avant-garde people working today. The Clothespin is a strong piece. He is able to execute his ideas with large sums of money and large, strong materials." And he likes the shape. "Good art is based on basic elements of design.

The Clothespin, for that space, is an excellent design. I admire the hell out of it!" It has been six years now since the Clothespin began startling people on its pedestal across from City HalL That people are still confused by it angered by it, pleased by it, intrigued by it, is high tribute to Oldenburg. It pleases him. And for everyone who passes by and wonders, Oldenburg paused recently at his home in New York City to, once more, explain. 'The Clothespin is a simple minimal form that forms a nice contrast to the ornate tower of City Hall At the same time, its upward sweep imitates the general shape of City Hall On the other side of the Clothespin is a very modem office building.

The very familiar form of one contrasts against the modern shape behind it So the Clothespin is both modern and traditional I think it mediates nicely between City Hall and the structures of Centre Square. I'm glad to hear you are enjoying it down there." Mark Bowden irst District City Councilman Jimmy Tayoun is known in the dark, wide corridors of City Hall as a man who knows how to ret thines done. "Yeah, well I saw the kid walking around like a nut handing out his leaflets and asking for signatures, and like everybody else I didn't pay any attention to him at first," recalls the.

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