There's only one way to view the recently re-installed equestrian statue of Joan of Arc on Kelly Drive, across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Go there at 8 p.m., and wear sunglasses. Then this pile of bling will appear almost pleasantly luminous, its edges softened by shadows.
In broad daylight it's much too shiny to represent any image we might wish to project of Philadelphia's cultural status. A better location for this statue would be in front of the New York Stock Exchange: All those new money moguls would appreciate the glitter. Let us stick with George Washington on horseback in front of the museum. This is the sense of artistic quality for all to see.
Last year I noticed that the Metal Maid of Orleans was just beginning to become somewhat bearable after almost half a century of city grime and exhaust fumes managed to dull her gilded surface slightly. A slight patina was beginning to make Emmanuel Frémiet's statue less of a laughing matter.
French tourists no longer smiled superciliously while mouthing banalities about how Americans deal with art"“ even after being told that Frémiet, a Frenchman himself, had expressed a desire for its gilding. They even excused him, saying he was a sculptor of animals but very naive about everything else.
Having been donated to the city of Philadelphia by the French community in 1890, the Joan statue was originally installed, ungilded, near the Schuylkill at Girard Avenue. The Fairmount Park Art Association had it moved to its present location"” and gilded"” in 1959.
As I understand it, the sculpture was removed in 2009 to repair a crack in its pedestal. While it languished in the Milner and Carr Conservation studio, the city's public art program decided this was an opportune time for a total conservation and regilding, at a cost of $50,000 of your tax dollars plus a donation of $15,000 from the local chapter of the French Heritage Society.
Was this trip necessary?
Every visitor leaving the Philadelphia Museum of Art, our city's pride and joy, is confronted by this eyesore. Then, turning the corner toward the Franklin Parkway, they encounter tourists lined up to photograph Rocky or aping Rocky's pose themselves"“ another testimonial to the triumph of popular culture over art.
Joan of Arc was a remarkable human being. Rocky was an inspiring fictitious hero. Will no one in Philadelphia point out that their icons are incompatible with a temple to art?
Robert Montgomery Scott, the Art Museum's late president, waged a constant (and successful) battle to keep the Rocky statue off the Museum's grounds. For years that movie prop stood outside Veterans' Stadium, where he belonged. But as soon as Scott died in 2005, Rocky sneaked back onto the Parkway. Who will replace Bob Scott as Philadelphia's watchdog of public artistic taste?♦
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