The Daily Pennsylvanian is a student-run nonprofit.

Please support us by disabling your ad blocker on our site.

The Button sitting in front of Van Pelt Library has a story. So do the benches outside of Hill College House.

These statues are part of the University’s outdoor art collection, which includes more than 50 statues spread across campus. These are only a fraction of the more than 6,000 art pieces that Penn has in its collection, according to University Curator Lynn Marsden-Atlass.

These outdoor sculptures come to Penn a variety of ways — through a commission, a donation or as a part of a public project — but they all go through the Office of the Curator. The curator may then choose to submit the piece to be reviewed by the subcommittee on Campus Art, a committee appointed by the Board of Trustees, Marsden-Atlass explained.

The committee then considers a variety of factors before approving an outdoor art piece, such as the integrity of the work, the artist, the importance of the artist and a possible site location.

“I think it’s so fantastic that Penn has so many outdoor sculptures on campus,” Marsden-Atlass said. “I believe a lot of them are really engaging and wonderful sculptures that really enhance the quality of our campus.”

In this feature, The Daily Pennsylvanian profiles a few well-known and not so well-known sculptures around campus.

The Button

One of the most distinctive sights on campus, with a blog named after it and many traditions revolving around it, the Button is central to Penn’s campus.

The button

Created by Claes Oldenberg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen in 1981, the Button came to Penn’s campus as part of Philadelphia’s Percent for Art program. This program required that one percent of each construction project’s budget to be used toward public art. Penn then decided to commission Oldenberg for this specific job.

The button was originally meant to be built in one whole piece, but Oldenberg chose to split it as the construction continued.

According to a 1981 interview between Oldenberg and The Philadelphia Inquirer, “The split represents the Schuylkill. It divides the button into four parts — for William Penn’s original Philadelphia squares.”

125 years of benches

The benches

The benches by Hill College House aren’t just benches. They are pieces of artwork.

Created by Jenny Holzer in 2003, the installation of granite benches was commissioned by the University to celebrate 125 years of women at Penn.

The artist selected quotes from the University Archives that were relevant to women and then inscribed them on the benches and an accompanying granite walkway.

The project was entirely funded by Penn alumni.

Life Savers

Life Savers

The colorful, circular statue called “Life Savers” is not easy to spot, as it is tucked in between buildings by Penn’s School of Veterinary Medicine, where many undergraduates do not frequent.

The statue displays three steel circles in red, green and yellow cut in half by a triangular-shaped piece of steel. Attached on the other side are three other, smaller circles outlined in red, green and yellow.

The statue was given to the University by Philip and Muriel Berman in 1982. It was created by Billie Lawless, an artist known for his abstract sculptures.


The Covenant

Popularly known as the “Dueling Tampons,” Covenant is the more than 40-foot high piece of art created by Alexander Liberman in 1975.

Like the Button, the statue also came to campus through the Percent for Art program. According to DP articles from the 1970s, it was received with much controversy and criticism from students, since it represented a more modern wave of art. It was so despised by some that at one point, WXPN organized an event to knock over the statue with sound waves, with no result.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.