Spotted: Skateable Sculptures in Paine’s Park

Sol LeWitt’s sculptures Steps (Philadelphia) and Pyramid (Philadelphia) did not tumbled downhill from the Philadelphia Museum of Art into Paine’s Park.

Instead the Steps and Pyramid that appeared this week in Paine’s Park are a skateable reinterpretation of the sculptures by artist Jonathon Monk, ready for months worth of scuffs, dents, and dings.

Monk’s sculptures are part of Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space, a multi-artist, multi-site, months long Mural Arts Program exhibition just kicking off this month and culminating with a series of intensive events this October. The goal is to create works of art that are participatory, interactive, reflective, site-specific, and distinctly responsive to their particular urban contexts. 

Monk’s Pyramid and Steps are built of plywood, steel, and coated in a surface called Skatelite printed to echo the concrete blocks that LeWitt used. But unlike most public sculptures, the hope is that skateboarders will help finish the work by leaving their mark. (That’s a big deal in a city that has stiff penalties for skateboarding on its public art.) 

To Open Source’s curator Pedro Alonzo, Monk’s work is about reverence for LeWitt as well as defiance, and “reflects concerns about the passive nature of looking at art.” Insead of look-but-don’t-touch, Monk is “inviting people to beat them up,” Alonzo said. 

Challenge accepted. “There is going to be action on these pieces,” said Josh Nims co-founder of Franklin’s Paine Skatepark Fund.

Nims, who was a driving force behind the construction of Paine’s Park, said the plan has always been to have skateable artwork there in order to create dialogue between the park and museum uphill. To Nims, Monk’s work enable Paine’s Park to be a living lab for the intersection of art and skating for the next few months.The sculptures will stay on site through November.

Skater Jonathan James said he welcomed the pieces into the park. “They’re difficult but that’s a good thing,” James said. “They add to [the park], and they’re not in the way if you don’t want to hit it.”

Leading up to the month-long Open Source exhibition and events in October, artists will be embedded in the neighborhood or community where they will develop and produce art reflecting social issues and change.

The red thread running through the diverse sites and creative minds behind Open Source, Mural Arts Program’s Executive Director Jane Golden said, is that each artist and site is taking on distinctly urban questions, from skateboarding to waste, immigration to criminal justice. When these are knit together, she said, we’ll see snapshots, questions, and interpretations of Philadelphia’s urban life.

You can check out the first of many Open Source installations for yourself at the kickoff party at Paine’s Park Friday evening, from 6-9pm, complete with skate demos, food trucks, and music from Chill Moody and DJ Ricochet. 

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