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UArts Installs A Pop Art Billboard by Lichtenstein on South Broad

February 12, 2020

The Avenue of the Arts is now home to a new work of public art, and not a moment too soon! The artwork is from one of history’s most famous Pop artists. And what’s potentially even more interesting, it has a historic tie to Philly.

I think most of you now know my feelings about the lack of public art on Philadelphia’s so-called “Avenue of the Arts”. And if you don’t, you can read this blog post from last December or this tweet from last September that bemoan the fact that one of our city’s most traveled and easily accessible boulevards seems to have lacked any curatorial forethought in its design. An observation that’s particularly stinging for this blogger who’s devoted to discussing art in the public space in a city that rightfully boasts that it has one of the largest collections of public art in the nation. Is this our city’s biggest issue, far from it. But in a city that’s well known for its public art, you’d expect more of it at a destination marketed as the “Avenue of the Arts”. Now, in all my publicly posted observations about the street, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with some of the folks from the board of the avenue, and I am happy to say that I think the avenue’s future is going to be a bright one. And that’s all I can say on that right now. In the meantime, the University of the Arts (UArts) has taken up the call.

Last month, UArts unveiled this new public art billboard on South Broad Street between Spruce and Pine Streets along the Avenue of the Arts. Titled Super Sunset, the billboard is a re-creation of an artwork by famed American pop artist, Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997) that features a black-and-white landscape with a setting sun over a body of water. While Lichtenstein is an artist probably best-known for his colorful, tightly-cropped paintings of comic book characters, he apparently returned to creating images of the sea and sky many times over the course of his career. Super Sunset was originally commissioned in the mid-60s by Joan Kron and Audrey Sabol, two champions of Pop art in Philadelphia. (If you’d like, you can read a bit more about Kron and Sabol’s work in brining Pop art to Philly in this 2016 Philadelphia Inquirer article by Peter Dobrin.)

I learned more in this 2015 Sag Harbor Express article: “The idea was to install a series of billboards around [Philadelphia] featuring imagery by contemporary artists of the day. The Lichtenstein study, which was recreated larger than life by Strait Outdoor Advertising of Philadelphia, was installed in 1967 on a sports backboard at Sabol’s Pennsylvania property in order to drum up support for the project. However, it never came to fruition and eventually the billboard was discarded.”

UArts has installed a re-creation of Lichtenstein’s billboard temporarily to, in part, advertise its current exhibition open now through April 4, 2020, Invisible City: Philadelphia and the Vernacular Avant-garde, which highlights Philadelphia’s significant contributions to visual, literary, and musical culture between 1956 and 1976. Considering that Lichtenstein created and installed his first-ever art billboard, Temple of Apollo, to promote his first exhibition held at the Pasadena Art Museum, this seems pretty fitting. And the fact that the Super Sunset art billboard has found a new home on an avenue that sorely needs it in a city that worked to bring it here more than a half century ago makes it only more so!

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