Leaving Water Marks

Philadelphia Contemporary brings art to the Delaware River for a chance at reflection

2 minute read
Tracey Emin’s “A Moment Without You.” Five bronze poles topped with bird sculptures are spaced out in park greenspace.
Tracey Emin’s “A Moment Without You.” (Photo courtesy of Philadelphia Contemporary.)

The Delaware River waterfront can be defined in multitudes: A gateway to worlds nearby and far, a home, a source of drinking water, or a contemplative place to sit. Starting this summer, the multi-year Water Marks public art project from Philadelphia Contemporary will encourage residents to visit and reflect on those multitudes. After all, just as the river has helped shaped the city, the city has shaped the river.

“There's just so many inroads in terms of the river, thinking both about the history of Philadelphia [and] also the various futures we want to build for it,” said Kerry Bickford, Philadelphia Contemporary’s director of programs. “And how those futures are going to look different depending on where and depending on who's living there now, who has lived there before.”

Thepossibilities of the waterfront’

Beginning with London-based artist Tracey Emin’s “A Moment Without You,” debuting in June at Race Street Pier, Water Marks will include existing and commissioned pieces. Two works will be installed each year and remain on view for six to 12 months. Bickford, Philadelphia Contemporary director Harry Philbrick, and New York-based curatorial consultant Debbie Landau are leading the curation.

Starting with existing works will allow the future commissions—by artists such as Jean Shin, Radcliffe Bailey, and Hugh Hayden—time to develop, Bickford said. The series, conceived in 2020, will “explore all the possibilities of the waterfront,” its varied history and ecology, and could stretch from as far north as Graffiti Pier to as far south as Pier 68, Bickford said.

Both extreme and subtle

Although first installed in Hong Kong in 2017, “A Moment Without You”—featuring a pensive group of realistic bronze birds atop tall poles—will be a fitting launch, Bickford said.

“Everyone has lost something over the course of the last year,” he added. “Race Street Pier is such a contemplative space. We wanted there to be a work that allowed for that kind of contemplation, both of the past year but also in terms of the history of the waterfront and what humans have done to it.”

The second piece, appearing this fall at a to-be-announced location, will be “Doors for Doris” by Brooklyn-based artist Sam Moyer. Currently on view in Doris Plaza in New York’s Central Park, the group of massive marble and concrete portals inspired by revolving doors was created for that location. Bickford anticipates the piece will invite a different conversation in Philadelphia, with the doors set between the industrial and natural worlds, or city and water.

“There's a lot of ways in which the Delaware River is very connected to us, very intimately and in ways that are not always clear. It's the source of our drinking water and closely connected to our sewer system,” Bickford said. “I think it's a space in which climate change is going to manifest in the city, in ways that are both extreme and also more subtle.”

What, When, Where

Water Marks is a multi-year program of rotating art installations along the Delaware River Waterfront presented by Philadelphia Contemporary in partnership with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation. It will begin with the public installation of Tracey Emin’s sculpture "A Moment Without You” at Race Street Pier now through May 2022. Additional installations and locations will be announced at a later date.


The Delaware River Waterfront website cites that all of the parks are ADA compliant and have parking available.

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