A tree grows in Philly, adding to sculptural luster along Parkway [photos]

Jostling for attention between two other major works, a new sculpture has taken its place along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.

“Symbiosis,” an arrangement of two stainless-steel trees — one fallen onto the other — stands between the imposing red I-beam abstraction “Iroquois” by Mark di Suvero and the gleaming gold-gilded Joan of Arc atop her majestic horse. The trees have the ponderous quality of the former, and the bling of the later.

Brooklyn-based artist Roxy Paine crafted a 40-foot tree (of no particular species) and broke it in half so the top portion rests in the crotch of the neighboring silver tree, its sprawling branch system hanging horizontally. The splintered wound at the break is a violent knot of metal shards, reminiscent of hurricane destruction.

“It’s a meditation on a symbiotic relationship between two entities,” said Paine, who is wary of giving a too specific meaning to his work. “It’s a relationship between two people, or political systems that are broken and propped up, or economic systems that are broken but supported by another entity, barely. Or ecological systems. I don’t want to dictate which metaphoric resonance people bring to it.”

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Paine repurposed industrial steel piping normally used for oil pipelines or manufacturing pharmaceuticals into a bent and welded network of tree branches. Then he buffed the sculpture to a bright silver polish.

“It about transformation,” said Paine, whose has tree sculptures — what he calls dendroids — at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, and Madison Square Park in New York. “Transforming this material that was used for a different purpose in an industrial situation — pipelines, pharmaceutical plants, oil refineries — through a kind of alchemical process into a natural form.”

The sculpture is on temporary loan for one year, arranged by the Association for Public Art, formerly the Fairmount Park Art Association. Penny Balkin-Bach, association director, said the large-scale sculptures make the Parkway more distinctive and appealing.

“A lot of thinking about how to make the Parkway better for pedestrians,” said Balkin-Bach. “The sculpture along the Parkway is one of the things that makes walking the Parkway so interesting and varied.”

Balkin-Bach notes that many of the small parks along the Parkway have informally adopted the names of the sculptures they contain: LOVE Park, Shakespeare Park in front of the Free Library, Pennypacker Park in front of the old Family Court Building, and Iroquois Park near the Philadelphia Art Museum.

Paine spent most of the week making small changes to the branch structure of “Symbiosis” because he has never before seen the work displayed outside his upstate New York studio. Technically, the sculpture is homeless, originally intended for an outdoor venue that fell through. It has been kept in a storage area in 14 pieces.

If a donor comes forward during the sculpture’s year-long residency on the Parkway, it could become a permanent part of the landscape, Balkin-Bach said.

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