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Bob Cozzolino and Sid Sachs discuss public art on artblog radio

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September 13, 2010   ·   23 Comments

Curators Bob Cozzolino of PAFA and Sid Sachs of Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery talk about the good, the bad and the importance of public art.
Below is the 30-second sample clip. And below that is the full 15-minute interview.

Curator Bob Cozzolino, left, and Curator Sid Sachs, before our interview, sitting in Bob's office at Pennsylvania Academy

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Right click to download 30 second sample of sid and bob

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.


Right click to download full 15-min. public art podcast

Edited by Peter Crimmins. Music by Eric Biondo. Recorded at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Thanks to the Knight Foundation for their support of this project.

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23 Responses to “Bob Cozzolino and Sid Sachs discuss public art on artblog radio”

  1. Ditta says:

    I think the point of art is to surprise people, to present people with what they hadn’t imagined seeing or feeling or knowing. To present excellence so people viewing the art can imagine the possibility of excellence. We don’t need more, even well intentioned, mediocrity. I vote with Sid.

  2. libby says:

    One of the problems with art selected and edited by committee is it loses the surprise. But to some degree public art is automatically less surprising than non-public art. However, it still needs to delight and surprise in some sense–just not shock.

  3. Not a word about the Swann Fountain, my favorite work of public art in Philadelphia. I guess it’s too old to consider…

  4. roberta says:

    The Swann Fountain is one of the best pieces of public art in the city but we focused on the contemporary realm. I often wonder if we should have more statuary like that in the Swann. Statues are heroic and beautiful and we need to celebrate contemporary heroes — I envision lots of statues of women, for example, and minority heroes. Someone needs to make a list and it shouldn’t include people like Mayor Rizzo.

    Tom Otterness is a contemporary statue-maker and as Bob says in the podcast Philadelphia will get some of his work sometime in the near future. Otterness is anti-heroic. His work is funny and charming and has some content, and what I’ve seen in New York I like. But I do believe we could use more heroic statuary, well sited in meaningful places, and with abundant landscaping (and benches to sit and contemplate).

  5. Sid Sachs says:

    Well speaking of fountains, can anyone tell me where the Harry Bertoia fountain that was sited in front of the Civic Center Museum went to after the museum was torn down? Was the Bertoia sold as sculpture, stored, or sold as scrap metal? As a prominent public sculpture wouldn’t the city be responsible for it? Isn’t there a place where the sculpture could be re-sited?
    As a major Pennsylvania sculptor and industrial designer his work belongs to the heritage of the city.

  6. libby rosof says:

    Back on the heroic issue. This is not a heroic age. Everyone has feet of clay and the culture makes sure that they know it. Maybe Oprah is still a hero. But honestly, look what they did to Bill Clinton, and now to Obama. If you have ideals and want to help others, slam. At this point I think contemporary heroic looks kind of silly.
    Maybe after people die, we can accept that they were great. So no heroic sculptures of the living.

  7. roberta says:

    Not a heroic age…all the more reason for heroes. Also, ordinary people can be heroes. Every neighborhood has someone….either living or dead. The murals serve up heroism but they are preachy and not contemplative. The murals broadcast their message quickly and with the subtlety of bullhorns. Statues are generally quieter, with more room for slow contemplation. Slowing down and considering is a good thing. I’m not sure contemporary heroic is silly.

  8. libby rosof says:

    Not all the murals. Some of them are pretty good, which reminds me, someone recently told me that Herman Wrice came down, painted over, and that a developer is building something next to it that would have blocked it anyway. I am wondering why paint over something that has the potential to be found again at some future date? Anyway, there’s an example of a heroic mural that was not preachy but was contemplative. I think there are a number of these–and lots of the other kind, too, alas, which give the better murals a bad reputation. There are many smarmy and preachy ones that I’d like to see covered up and repainted with something new. One horror I pass by regularly is the Lucien Blackwell tribute on 42nd Street. aargh. Whatever the intentions, it’s revolting!

  9. Jong Kyu says:

    Hey Sid,
    You should speak to Maggie at Seraphin Gallery. They recently acquired works by Harry Bertoia, and if they don’t have that sculpture in hand, then they should damn sure know where it is.

  10. even though nam june paik’s “video arbor” was not mentioned in this piece, it did remind me to ask around about why i’d never seen it in operation. the paik foundation says they have no control over its maintenance; i understand that the owners of the condos where it is, are the people in control of that. also, i hear that it sometimes IS on, but only at night (although again, i’ve been there at night to look and have never seen this.) i’d really love to see it up and running.

  11. Gasp!

    “…we focused on the contemporary realm.” Hmmm, “contemporary” meaning circa 1970? Granted, this may be a matter of Sid and Bob’s respective frames of reference regarding their definitions of Public Art, but the attitudes expressed here are super-duper ultra reactionary! Big metal things plopped in public spaces, permanence as a normative value, the championing of “good” art and therefore officially-sanctioned high culture, and civic pride? It’s a shame that the conversation didn’t acknowledge nearly 25 years of established discourse and works regarding site-specificity, so-called “new genre” public art and critical spatial practices, to name just a few threads. Then maybe we can have a conversation about a wider range of actors, publics, histories, and politics that really factor in the construction of meanings in the life of the city and its citizens.

    ps. Hi Sid!

  12. Sid Sachs says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    You are right and there are several conversations here. And the conversations during the recording wandered here and there. I am not for plop art per se at all , in fact I might have said during the recording that I had problems with public art because it often necessitated strategies for permanence. I am not a fan of the public Oldenburgs for example. I spoke about Pulsa and the early Krebs piece at the PMA that were temporary and exciting for the time (yes I know the 70s). But as with the Paik installation above there are problems with technology lasting.
    I have problems too with heroics. These were not my words.
    There is however something reassuring about permanence. Permanence equals some continuity of values.
    When you have shared a meal prepared by Rikrit Tiravanija what do you have next year? And the waterfall by Olafur Eliasson when it ends? Memories and ideas? Theater? Have you really been transformed in the process? How elastic is the aesthetic experience?
    Ironically I am writing this after seeing the Sheldon Museum of Art and the sculpture collection at the University of Nebraska. Though a public school it puts the collection at UPenn and most works on our Parkway to shame.
    Jeremy let’s have that lunch I spoke about. I’m an old dog but might learn new tricks. Anyway I am willing to try.

  13. Emily Brown says:

    Another old dog here to ask what happened to Robin Fredenthal’s piece at 1234 Market Street. This handsome totem never was visible enough in that situation, yet I remember it with great admiration for its high qualities – as all of Robin’s work holds. His work has no local reference.
    Our city would do well with a mix of some topical and some timeless pieces – all gloriously energetic and beautiful. Time to raise the bar.

  14. Diedra Krieger says:

    i think what is forgotten in this interview is that art is subjective and every viewer/participant brings his or her own subjectivity.

    it would be helpful if you could tag some of the art works mentioned. i would like to know more about the fleisher memorial piece and didn’t quite catch the names. and some of the pieces mentioned here made me feel like i didn’t even live in philly the past 10 years… oof but exciting too.

    thanks for the heads up about tom otterness!

  15. libby says:

    Hi, Diedra, The reading room at Fleisher is by Siah Armajani, and it is well worth the visit (although is it public art if it’s indoors?) As for links, it would be helpful. So anyone out there who wants to add links, go for it in the comments! Meanwhile, Diedra, the Fairmount Park Art Association is a good site for finding the sculptures under their bailiwick. The city has a site, too, but it is extremely difficult to navigate.

  16. roberta says:

    Jeremy, as Sid said, our talk meandered and this is just a small slice. If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you will know that Libby and I both have harped on at length about the need for temporary public art in Philadelphia. We are proponents of programs like the Public Art Fund and Creative Time and believe there is a need for that model here.

    My feeling about the murals is that anything that large is not contemplative. You sum it up quickly and move on (most people drive by–and there are few benches to sit there and look, even if you wanted to). They are like billboards in that respect. Statues are generally smaller in scale and usually their charms unfold more slowly. Often they are sited in parks near benches and trees. Both the slowness of that type of art, and the park-like setting are conducive to deeper more complex thoughts, something art should provide.

    Diedra, you’re right about needing the back story and links on a lot of this. We are learning how to do audio interviews and one of the things we need to do is slow down and provide that information for people during the interview so it’s clear what we’re all talking about.

  17. Char says:

    I teach in a local high school and a group of our students are about to embark on a year-long exploration of urban art in Philadelphia. There will be a parallel group of students in Kobe, Japan who are exploring their city and both groups will be Skyping presentations throughout the year on their findings/impressions of the impact of art on their cities and vice versa. Do you have any thoughts for the high schoolers on urban public art in other countries/cultures in contrast to Philadelphia? A broad question but your thoughts would be very welcome to us.

  18. roberta says:

    Hi Amber, it would be great to see the Paik piece active at all hours. I remember seeing it one time at night and it’s quite remarkable….all those monitors flashing all that information.

  19. libby says:

    Hi, What a great question! I’m hoping people who have visited places like Asia, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pacific islands, etc. respond to you in these comments! I also hope you let us know what your students learn from their Japanese partners.

  20. berth heiny says:

    This interview being the longest so far, love it! Hearing such straight forward ideas/opinions about the public art in Philly is soooo refreshing.

  21. re: the nam june paik video arbor:

    i contacted both franklin town, where the installation is, and the redevelopment authority. i received this response from the RDA:

    Dear Ms. Stopper:

    Thank you for emailing us about the condition of the Video Arbor piece
    at 18th and Callowhill. Julia Guerrero, our Percent for Art Program
    Director, will follow up, evaluate the condition of the art piece, and
    contact the property owner who is responsible for maintaining the art
    piece.

    We agree that Philadelphia is lucky to have Paik’s piece of work and we
    too want to make sure the piece is operational. We will be in touch to
    update you about our progress.

    Sincerely,
    Tania Nikolic

  22. and, a little more:

    Dear Ms Stopper,
    This is Julia Guerrero, the Director of the Redevelopment Authority’s
    Fine Arts Program. We became aware of the condition of the Paik piece
    over the summer and share your concern. All of the works of art
    commissioned through our program are property of the building for
    which they were commissioned although oftentimes, and in the case of
    the Paik piece, a building is sold and the new owners don’t live up to
    their obligation to continue to maintain the art. I’ve encountered a
    few instances like this over the past few years and I’ve had a good
    amount of success in getting new owners to maintain and repair their
    works of art.

    I’m currently out on maternity leave but I’ll get in touch with the
    property owners when I return to the RDA later this fall.

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