Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
The city hopes to engage young people in its downtown parks and museum plazas by installing skateable sculptures.
Philadelphia kicked off its new public outdoor-arts exhibition Open Source: Engaging Audiences in Public Space on Friday with two sculptures made for skateboarding on. The artist Jonathan Monk installed the “Skateable Sculptures” in Paine’s Park, a publicly funded skate park built in 2013, not far from the downtown Philadelphia Museum of Art. Monk’s sculptures appropriate, in some ways, some of Sol LeWitt’s public artworks found in the museum’s sculpture garden.
In an effort to “explore and illuminate Philadelphia’s diverse urban identity,” additional pieces built for public interaction will be created through October by a range of artists, including Shepard Fairey and immigrants-rights activist and artist Michelle Angela Ortiz. The project as a whole is part of Philadelphia’s famed Mural Arts Program.
Monk discussed his minimal approach to designing the sculptures in an interview with Gregston Hurdle at Green Label:
[Hurdle]: Your approach to your work is similar to a skateboarder’s approach to their environment. You take what is established or "not to be touched" and make it your own. Has this ever occurred to you before? Was it the reason your pieces for Open Source incorporate skateboarding and skateboarders?
[Monk]: Perhaps. But in this case I was specifically invited to make a skateable sculpture for Philadelphia. The skate park's location helped, so I drew direct parallels to the Philadelphia Museum of Art's small sculpture park, a short skate from Paine's Park.
Monk says his exhibit won’t be complete until skaters actually start using them. It was just six years ago that skating in Philly’s parks was illegal, with police sometimes enforcing the ban through excessive force. Monk’s collaboration with the city seems, in part, an effort to renegotiate that downtown space so that its youth can co-exist with tourism and basic city leisure without the tension of aggressive police oversight.
Said Monk to Green Label about skating on his sculptures, “I just hope nobody hurts themselves. It does seem to be pretty dangerous.”
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the artist Jonathan Monk will be creating more sculptures in the coming months. He will not.