The first time I went to Paris, I was 17. Workers at the Louvre happened to be on strike, and the great museum was closed. This I refused to accept, not until I went up to the museum and tugged on the locked doors with all my teenage might.
Thus I have a pre-existing sympathy to those who visit distant cities and are denied access to artist wonders. I noticed this powerful photograph by my Facebook friend Mia Jung, and asked her if I could repost it here with a few words of hers. She writes:
Daniel Chester French is the artist who sculpted the impressive 65-foot tall gilded statue called “The Republic.” The title may not mean anything to you, but if you have seen photos of Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition, then you have seen that beautiful work of art towering over the Great Basin.
The sculpture that sits in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park is an earlier work by French entitled “Law, Prosperity, and Power” (1880). It used to sit atop the U.S. Post Office and Federal Building in the City of Brotherly Love until the building was destroyed in 1937, when the statue was moved to its current location. I thought it would be perfect for my assignment, which was to pick a piece of public art and photograph it from varying perspectives (lie down on the ground and shoot up, walk around it, etc.).
After checking out the park on Google maps and not seeing an actual parking lot in the vicinity of the statue, I called the Association for Public Art in Philadelphia to check on my options. The kind lady I spoke with said I should park at the Mann Music Center and that the art work was a short walk up a hill. Ok, all set!
When I reached the park, a police officer told me I could park on a through-street and walk anywhere I wanted to. I parked and walked over to the Mann Center, but it was closed. Fencing prevented me from walking up the hill and behind the Center to where the statue is situated. I walked back to my car and drove around the Center and up the hill, parking in a driveway with my hazards on in case anyone came along. I discovered that the statue was enclosed in the fencing that runs around the entire Center and every single gate had a padlock on it. I couldn’t get close enough to shoot the varying perspectives that were required for the assignment, but that’s not what got me steamed. I can always find art work closer to home to shoot.
What made me angry is that a piece of “public art,” owned by the citizens of Philadelphia, has been made inaccessible. When I got back to Illinois, I hit Google maps again and looked more closely at the aerial views. The fencing could have easily been erected to leave the sculpture exposed, but the decision was made to lock it in on the grounds of the Mann Music Center, rendering it only accessible when the Center is open (it is a summer outdoor concert venue).
I took this picture of the art work with bars and padlock visible as an expression of my disgust over its inaccessibility. I posted it to the Facebook page of the Association for Public Art, which ironically touts Philadelphia’s “Museum Without Walls” program and they wrote:
Association for Public Art We appreciate you bringing this to our attention. For a variety of reasons beyond our control, sites and contexts for works of public art can change over time. We worked with the City of Philadelphia to re-install "Law, Prosperity, and Power" in 1937, prior to the Mann Music Center’s construction and a fence was more recently installed as part of their renovations. We are sorry to learn of your disappointment and have updated our website to reflect the variable accessibility of the work. We do hope that you were able to experience some of the other incredible public art throughout the city. Thank you again for reaching out.