Art Commission OKs art installation behind the Art Museum and considers concepts for Live! Casino’s public art

The Art Commission approved two art pieces that use unusual canvases—the sky and a forthcoming casino—at their monthly meeting Wednesday morning.

The commissioners granted preliminary conceptual approval to some of the ideas floated to satisfy a zoning code requirement for public art at the proposed Live! Hotel and Casino and gave final design approval to a James Turrell Skyspace installation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Architects Nick Brown and Eric Gray from BLT Architects offered four options to satisfy the art requirement for the casino planned for the the stadium complex in South Philadelphia. The zoning code requires a piece of public art to adorn the casino’s exterior or interior before it can open for business.

“What we really need is your counsel and consensus,” said Richard Hayden, an attorney for Live! developer Cordish Companies. “In terms of getting our zoning permit, you are our last stop.”

The four options varied considerably, offering choices from a wide talent pool that included two international artists.

Art commissioners voiced their support for three of the four options: an outdoor light sculpture at the casino entrance by Korean native Chuyl-Hahn Ahn, or either of the two ideas for an interior mural presented.

Commissioner Natalie Nixon recommended selecting a Philadelphia-based artist if the mural option was chosen. This idea was met with consensus from her fellow commissioners and Hayden.

The Art Commission’s support makes a small nudge of progress for Cordish, which has faced legal impediments in its bid to open Philadelphia’s second casino amid a struggling gaming market in the region.

Later in the meeting, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presented the latest design for  Skyspace, which the Art Commission unanimously approved. The vote solidifies the plan for the outdoor exhibit behind the Art Museum, which won conceptual approval last summer.

Skyspace artist James Turrell works primarily with light and space,both constructed and natural. His art can be found everywhere from a local Quaker meetinghouse to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” music video. Timothy Rudd, CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, said that Turrell was selected because of his innovative use of intangible elements.

“He shapes them—or more properly, he shapes our perception of them—by means of framing devices,” Rudd told the Art Commission.  

In Skyspaces, that means the roof, which has a quadrilateral cutout open to the ever-changing sky. Its location was chosen in part because of the unobstructed upward view.

The installation of the Skyspace, which includes the construction of a pathway and pavilion, will alter the Fairmont Waterfront by adding a third structure alongside the two historic gazebos. A rotating light display will augment the sunrise and sunset for the viewers to observe from the pavilion benches, which are angled for optimal sky views. The benches will be constructed from polished black concrete—an aesthetic reminiscent of the obelisk from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

In their final presentation, the Art Museum added elements to address previous Art Commission concerns over the safety and accessibility of the exhibit. Now,a guard will maintain nighttime security, and the pathway will be equipped with lighting and a supportive guardrail.

The Skyspace installation has had an almost decade-long development, and the Live! Casino recently faced legal impediments, but the Art Commission vote marks a nudge of progress.

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