Plaza with ‘Paint Torch’ opens

The barriers are down and at Lenfest Plaza opened to pedestrian traffic today, Sept. 1. The plaza, formerly Cherry Street between Broad and 15th streets, seen here with Claes Oldenburg's Paint Torch sculpture as backdrop. The opening ceremony of the plaza is scheduled for Oct. 1. ( Jim Selzer / Staff Photographer)
The barriers are down and at Lenfest Plaza opened to pedestrian traffic today, Sept. 1. The plaza, formerly Cherry Street between Broad and 15th streets, seen here with Claes Oldenburg's Paint Torch sculpture as backdrop. The opening ceremony of the plaza is scheduled for Oct. 1. ( Jim Selzer / Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 01, 2011

The chainlink fence is finally gone, giving pedestrians full access to the new Lenfest Plaza, across from the Convention Center.

The $7.5 million project covered a short block of Cherry Street with paving stones, and added a series of wooden benches and low platforms next to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

The grand artistic flourish, though, is the Paint Torch, a giant blue and orange brush that angles over the Broad Street sidewalk - and seems to have dripped a giant dollop of orange paint.

The reactions, like oils, were mixed.

"It's beautiful," a woman yelled passing by, shortly after a man, who didn't want to share his name, called the sculpture "a waste of money."

"It adds a lot of color to Broad Street," said Heather McCue, a family therapist from Queen Village.

As a construction crew worked on finishing touches and cleaning up, two third-year fine arts students cast a critical eye on the creation of Claes Oldenburg, whose many public sculptures include the Clothespin across from City Hall.

"For a traditional school, it's kind of cartoony," said Nick Garrin, 21, who's from a Washington suburb in Maryland.

"Kind of an ugly eyesore," like something out of Woody Woodpecker, said Anandi Black, 21, from Nevada City, Calif.

But Charles Council, a cook from West Philadelphia, saw a "positive looking symbol."

"To me, it kind of symbolizes we're trying to paint the City of Philadelphia for the better," he said.

H.F. "Gerry" and Marguerite Lenfest, for whom the plaza is named, donated $2 million, and another $1 million came from the city. The academy and private donors funded the Paint Torch.

"I think it's really perfect," said Hilary Leventis, a secretary visiting from London, England, who has found Philadelphia to be "a mecca for art."

"It really does demonstrate what the town seems to be known for," she said.

Academy applicants "are going to have to use brushes a little smaller than that one to get in," quipped her husband, Theo, a software engineer.

"Cartoony" was also suggested by Old City photographer Ben Riley. "But I think the pedestrian mall is really nice, a nice addition to the city," he said.

The sculpture's "good investment" that "brings out the beauty of Philadelphia," said bouncer Xavier Villafane of North Philadelphia.

"It sticks out, it's a good landmark, but it kind of clashes with the Furness building," the home of the academy, said Lexie Thomas, a fourth-year student from Bear, Del.

A deliveryman had a more practical point of view: "It's blocking my way down the damn alleyway, so I can't park here."


Contact staff writer Peter Mucha at 215-854-4342 or pmucha@phillynews.com.

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