Top Bizarre Statues And Public Art In Philadelphia

October 1, 2012 7:00 AM

(Credit: Chelsea Karnash)

Philadelphia is known for three things: cheese steaks, cream cheese and history. Anyone who has visited the city lately, however, would also add “strange public art installations” to that list. Much of the city’s prominent art is the result of Philadelphia’s forward-thinking “Percent for Art” program, which requires 1 percent of all city-assisted expenditures for construction be used to purchase art. From enormous board game pieces sprinkled throughout the city to a giant clothespin and something that looks like a huge tooth, there’s always something to see in Philadelphia.
North 15th and Market streets
Philadelphia, PA 19102

To commemorate Philadelphia’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976, Claes Oldenburg was commissioned to create a piece of art to be placed prominently outside of imposing and distinguished City Hall. The “Clothespin” was what he came up with. The steel sculpture weighs 10 tons and towers over pedestrians at more than four stories high. Oldenburg is known for his enormous art, including a 24-foot-high lipstick for Yale’s campus and a two-ton baseball mitt. The relevance of the pin to the bicentennial isn’t immediately clear, but when you look at it from just the right angle, the steel springs of the pin form the figure of 76. Whether you love it or hate it, no one can debate that this statue can’t be missed.

Your Move
JFK Boulevard and Broad Street
Municipal Services Building Plaza
Philadelphia, PA 19102

Continuing in the vein of overly large household products, across the street from City Hall sits “Your Move” by artists Daniel Martinez, Renee Petropoulis and Roger White, which was installed in 1996. Also known as “Game Piece Plaza” or “Board Game Art Park,” the artists littered Municipal Services Building Plaza with enormous game pieces, including dominoes, checkers, Parcheesi pieces and chessmen. Every day, you’ll witness city workers sitting on the fallen dominoes, children skateboarding on Parcheesi pieces, and tourists staring open-mouthed at the scene.

South 39th Street and Locust Walk
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Forty-five foot steel beams cross abut one another and fly above Locust Walk on the University of Pennsylvania’s campus. Created in 1974 by artist Alexander Liberman, “Covenant” is so epic in size it can only be fully appreciated from 100 feet away. When the piece was installed in the mid-’70s, reactions were mixed, but since then, the piece has become such a fixture on Penn’s campus that no one even pays it any mind. If you’re at Penn, take the time to really admire the piece, which was created by the man hailed as the best American artist of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Three-Way Piece Number 1: Points
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Between 16th and 17th streets
Philadelphia, PA 19103

Like much of the art in Philadelphia, even though this sculpture is massive, it can be easy to overlook. But when you do notice it, it’s hard to know what you’re looking at. Created in 1964 by Henry Moore, the name of the piece gives some hint. It’s not really meant to be anything. Instead, the interest comes from looking at it from many different angles and appreciating what jumps out at you, even if that is a tooth.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
1022-1024 South St.
Philadelphia, PA 19147
(215) 733-0390

If you’ve ever driven down South Street and weren’t too preoccupied by all the pierced and tattooed men and women, you probably noticed dozens of mosaics along the walls of the buildings around you. This is because in the 1960s, local artist Isaiah Zagar began tiling South Street and never stopped. He’s produced more than 100 mosaics in Philly, most of them on or around South Street. The epicenter of his work is at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, where you can see all of Zagar’s expansive creativity on display.

Katherine Ernst is a full-time novelist and freelance writer in Montgomery County. Follow her activity on her blog at Her work can be found at

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