Giant paint brush now part of Philadelphia’s outdoor art scene

On Saturday, Philadelphia newest public sculpture was installed at Broad and Cherry Streets.

On Monday many people working in Center City got their first look at Paint Torch, a 51-foot, blue-and-orange paint brush leaning over the sidewalk at a 60-degree angle. It was created by celebrated sculptor Claes Oldenburg.

The sculpture is the centerpiece of Lenfest Plaza at the Pennsylvania Acadmy of the Fine Arts, a block and a half above City Hall, which has been under construction for several months. Surrounded by chain-link construction fencing and lift cranes, the paintbrush is easy to miss.

“I look up and see a big blue thing hanging over my head,” said Dominique Familia, surprised by the cartoonish object towering over her lunch-hour route.

“It looks like a blow-up duck, or something,” said her companion, Donna Mangini. “At first, it looks like a duck.”

PAFA curator Robert Cozzolino said it reminds him of Woody the Woodpecker.

“It may take a few minutes to figure out exactly what it is – especially the little dab on the sidewalk,” said Darrell McMillan, a Xerox salesman who paused to admire the towering brush rooted in the sidewalk with a 4-foot glob of paint below it.

During the installation on Saturday, Claes Oldenburg sat in a lawn chair across the street, in the shadow of the new Convention Center, and discovered new things about his own sculpture. The handle of the paintbrush tapers narrow as it meets the sidewalk, in the same way the city street recedes toward the horizon.

“It’s a vanishing point perspective, it gets smaller at the bottom,” said Oldenburg. “You see that in the context of the other vanishing point perspective, which is the city itself. I hadn’t realized before.”

Oldenburg also created the huge clothespin at 15th and Market streets, and Split Button on the Penn campus. With four of his public works, Philadelphia has more Oldenburgs than any other city.

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