The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage announced late last month that the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program will receive $300,000 to help finance “Monument Lab: A Citywide Public Art and History Exhibition,” an extensive art installation and collaboration slated to be exhibited next summer.
The project, created by Penn professor and Chair of the Fine Arts Department Ken Lum, Urban Studies professor Dr. Paul Farber and A. Will Brown, will feature several installations by world-renowned artists in ten pavilions across the city.
The project will encourage five different artists to address the question “what is an appropriate memorial for the current city of Philadelphia?” through their installation, exploring “histories that interest them; a history that solicits dialogue about present day Philadelphia,” said Lum.
Lum noted that the project “is really a meditation on Philadelphia’s histories and public spaces, and how they are constituted, repressed, or even suppressed.”
In considering this, the artists can then contemplate “how this [repression] can be dealt with using temporary architectural pavilions and public sculptures.”
As the featured creators for the project, artists Ai Weiwei, Zoe Strauss, Kara Crombie, Kaitlin Pomerantz and Alexander Rosenberg will attempt to answer the question, creating spaces and pieces throughout the city.
The pavilions will be spread across Philadelphia, including four sites at each major Center City square, one at City Hall and other points throughout Port Richmond, Point Breeze and West Philadelphia.
This, according to Lum, was intentional.
“In order to see all of the locations, you will get a real tour of the city,” Lum said. This would thus encourage audiences to explore more of Philadelphia as they view each site.
The project grew out of last summer’s “Monument Lab,” a popular installation created by Lum and featuring a prototype monument by the late Penn professor Terry Adkins. “Monument Lab” shared a similar goal, asking the same question — what kind of monument would be right for Philadelphia?
The installation, located within the courtyard of City Hall, featured a bare-bones classroom layout, created by Adkins and designed to invoke the organized and minimalist layout of an ideal 19th century classroom. Lum said that Adkins intended for the classroom to “deal with the idea of making the city better; addressing public education through the concept of the ideal classroom.”
The courtyard space also featured a “lab” component — a container-turned-information kiosk, with seating and space to discuss the installation and the ideas behind it. The space hosted talks and lectures from a wide variety of speakers, all addressing the same question: What monument would work here?
After its success last summer, “Monument Lab” now serves as a template for the city-wide version; Lum hopes to include similar spaces throughout the pavilions designed for conversation and contemplation.
The $300,000 Pew Center grant will specifically go towards hiring students, accommodating and housing artists and producing at least five of the projected 10 pavilions. The funds to complete the remaining sites will come from other grants.
Lum and his fellow creators also hope to produce a book, with catalogue essays and photos, documenting the project.
Lum expressed excitement for the project, lauding it as “possibly the largest such art exhibition attempted in Philadelphia.”
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