Alluring tree sculpture becomes permanent Parkway fixture

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"Symbiosis" rises on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway last year as installers scramble over the sculpture, adjusting the stainless steel branches to the artist's exact specifications. (NewsWorks file photo)

Last year, two trees made of highly polished steel pipe were installed along the Parkway in Philadelphia, intended to be a temporary one-year addition to the city’s public sculpture collection. Now, they are permanent. 

“Symbiosis” comprises one steel tree fallen into the branches of the another, which keeps its neighbor propped up. At the time of the installation, sculptor Roxy Paine said it could be a symbol for personal relationships, for politics, for the environment … almost anything you want.

“I don’t want to dictate which metaphoric resonance people bring to it,” said Paine. “I am interested in the metaphoric possibilities of it.”

Viewers can spend as much time as they like musing on its various imagined meanings, because the Association for Public Art has raised an undisclosed amount of money from a single donor – the Daniel Dietrich Trust —  to keep the sculpture rooted in its Parkway location. 

“The work really was endlessly engaging,” said Penny Balkin Bach, executive director of the association. “On a certain level, very ambiguous. It doesn’t tell you everything about itself.”

Paine built “Symbiosis” in 2011 out of thousands of pieces of industrial pipe, hand-welded together to resemble a natural branching matrix, and polished it to a high gloss. He worked on spec, without a commission or a guarantee of placement. The artist has had other pieces installed at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Central Park.

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