As Baltimore’s Public Art Commission is set to learn more about plans for redevelopment around Pennsylvania Station, the creator of the towering sculpture there is weighing in – urging developers not to touch the most expensive piece of artwork ever donated to the city.
Moving the Male/Female sculpture could cost $150,000 to $250,000, says artist Jonathan Borofsky, and that’s even before anyone knows where to move it.
Attempting a relocation could damage the $750,000 artwork, he adds, which is five stories high, weighs more than 10 tons and could twist out of shape if lifted by a crane.
Borofsky designed the 52-foot-high sculpture as a “permanent” installation in front of Pennsylvania Station when it was commissioned in 2004. He argues that removing a sculpture for aesthetic reasons — as opposed to taking down Confederate statues that are symbols of slavery — would set a troubling precedent for other city-owned works of art.
Creating a more parklike setting with trees and benches — rather than keeping it alone on a barren plaza the way it is now – would be a better way to “nestle” the sculpture into its setting than moving it all together – and was in fact the original plan, he says.
Developers working with Amtrak on a nearly-$500 million plan to revitalize Penn Station and the area around it sparked a citywide debate in March when they unveiled preliminary plans for the project and Borofsky’s sculpture wasn’t shown on the drawings.
The developers said in a March 18 presentation that they’ve made no final decisions about whether to retain the sculpture as part of their plans — which call for reconfiguring the roads and adding trees and plants to the paved area in front of the 1911 train station. They said just because the sculpture isn’t on their drawings doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t remain. They said they would study the issue over the next few months and perhaps take a survey.
“Aye yi yi yi yi,” said developer Bill Struever, when asked about the sculpture’s fate in a meeting organized by the Greater Baltimore Committee. “We have to think of the diplomatic, graceful way to get everybody’s input…I wouldn’t dare opine on that.”
It’s “a hot topic,” said developer Tim Pula. “It comes up at every discussion.”
On Friday, Baltimore’s Public Art Commission, a city panel that advises the mayor on decisions pertaining to city-owned works of public art, will hold a meeting to learn about plans for the train station area and how they could affect Borofsky’s sculpture. The meeting is open to the public.
Penn Station Partners, headed by Beatty Development Group and Cross Street Partners, is the team leading the development. It has a master development agreement with Amtrak to revitalize up to seven parcels around the midtown train terminal. Gensler and Quinn Evans are the lead architects; Mahan Rykiel Associates is the landscape architect.
Male/Female was a gift to the city from the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City, a private group founded in 1899. The group selected Borofsky to create the work of art. The sculpture rises on a public plaza that serves as the roof of an underground garage also owned by the city. Penn Station Partners and Amtrak don’t have the final say in what happens to it, although they can make suggestions.
Borofsky, 78, is an internationally renowned sculptor with more than 30 major works in the United States, Europe and Asia. Based in Ogunquit, Maine, he still works daily and currently has major commissions in Canada and Europe.
Made of aluminum, Male/Female consists of two figures, like oversized cut-out dolls, intersecting at a 90-degree angle. From one direction, the sculpture appears to be a male form. From another direction, it appears to be a female form. Seen from an angle, the silhouettes appear to be coming together – part man, part woman.
At the center is a beating heart, illuminated with an LED light that changes from cobalt blue to fuchsia in half a minute. Borofsky has explained that the intersecting male and female forms represent two energies that come together to create a greater force, and the heart light is the point at which they come together to create a greater force, a oneness.
Asked his reaction to the GBC presentation, Borofsky wrote a three-paragraph statement.
I designed the Male/Female sculpture to be a work of art for everyone. It’s a symbol of balance and unity.
When we originally installed the sculpture, I was told that the whole area around the train station was eventually going to be developed with large buildings and landscaping. So, this new concept that I recently read about — of surrounding the sculpture in a park-like setting with large trees — sounds quite good to me.
We each strive for unity and balance in our everyday lives. The city of Baltimore, and especially the train station, where many thousands of people from all walks of life come and go every day, has always felt like an excellent location to celebrate this universal idea.
Ahead of this week’s meeting, Borofsky spoke with Baltimore Fishbowl about the sculpture and the possibility that it might be moved. (The interview has been condensed.)
Baltimore Fishbowl: What do you think of the talk about moving your sculpture?
Jonathan Borofsky: I don’t like to hear that some people want to move the sculpture. Naturally, I don’t like to hear that.
Fishbowl: Does it offend you to hear that? Is it par for the course of being an artist?
Borofsky: I wouldn’t say it’s par for the course. There’s always something that comes up…Sometimes it’s a building that has to be reconstructed and the sculpture has to be moved.
Fishbowl: How many times has this come up for you?
Borofsky: Maybe one or two, but almost never…Recently there has been a discussion in Basel, Switzerland, about a Hammering Man that I’ve had there for many years. The building’s been sold by UBS to a new company and I think they’re considering new construction. I don’t know the solution on that yet.
Fishbowl: When a new owner or developer comes along, do you have any say?
Borofsky: There are some laws that the U. S. has instituted to protect artists. You can look those up… In general, I’m not against progress. But I’m probably against aesthetic factions getting involved with each other — I like it, I don’t like it — because that’s the nature of art. I’ve got 30-plus sculptures around the world — in Asia, in Europe, and the U.S. Each time one goes in, there are always people that say that’s just terrible and you have people that say I love it, and then there’s a mix that goes on over time. So that’s nothing new. It’s just part of creativity in that we’re trying to create new symbols and new forms as artists, as opposed to just giving something you’ve already seen before.
Fishbowl: Male/Female isn’t the predictable statue in front of a historic building. Do you hear about the way people have reacted to your sculpture over the years?
Borofsky: I live in Maine. I have a few friends in Baltimore. So it’s occasionally been fed back to me. It’s also a very unique presentation of a symbol, I think, intersecting both the male form and the female form to make a statement about humanity connecting together. I don’t know if anybody’s done it quite like that before, so maybe it’s a bit of a, ‘What is that?’ for some. But you know, new ideas…oftentimes take a while to settle into the psyche of the people.
Fishbowl: It’s provocative. You can’t just walk by and ignore it. You have to take it in a little bit.
Borofsky: That’s what art’s supposed to be. Otherwise, why put it there in the first place?
Fishbowl: Can you think of a reason that anybody could come up with that would persuade you that Male/Female ought to be moved?
Borofsky: Well, there has to be some reason for anything. I mean, first of all, anything can be moved. The Empire State Building can be moved, if it’s determined that it has to be moved. The question is, does any reason come to mind? It sounds like aesthetics are involved here. That’s what I’m getting from the feedback, the little I’ve received.
Fishbowl: What do you think of the concept in general of moving supposedly “permanent” sculptures once they’re in place?
Borofsky: You can’t say never, let’s put it that way. You can’t say never. It just might have to be, for some reason. We’ve got to put a highway straight through here and to reroute the highway around the sculpture is going to cost $30 million. So I’m sorry, this is just something we have do. There will always be a reason that makes sense. But once it comes down to aesthetics, it’s getting into the normal realm of art where some people like it and some people don’t.
Fishbowl: Your Male/Female sculpture addresses the way people are divided into opposite forces, as you put it, with conflicting views. Ironically, now your sculpture seems to be caught up in a debate with people who have opposite points of view: keep it or not.
Borofsky: The sculpture itself is really about this subject of opposites, seemingly opposites, coming together to form a oneness. Whether we’re Democrats and Republicans or whatever, two teams playing basketball, the ultimate goal is to create a greater energy that serves the people and not just one side or the other.
Fishbowl: What would you say to people who want to move your sculpture?
Borofsky: As an artist, I don’t think too much like that…You try to shrug them off and not think about it, because I’m quite clear that I’m making beautiful work for human consumption. It’s for humanity that I make these works. It’s not for my ego. It’s for humanity. A lot of my works in the world, some of the largest ones, really directly serve that purpose.
Fishbowl: Artists need a thick skin, don’t they?
Borofsky: Yes. Artists. Actresses. Anybody that puts themselves out. Singers. Performers especially. You know, the world we live in today, it is split up into love and hate. I hate that. You’re a jerk. And it’s very uncomfortable for all of us, as human beings, that we have to witness: Did you see what she said? Did you hear what he said? There’s a lot of anger. We have to kind of decipher psychologically what’s going on in the human brain today that’s making this happen. I try to make symbols that have an ideal presented in them, to go more in a direction of unity rather than fighting each other. Republicans. Democrats. We get very little done if we’re just going to keep hitting each other in the head. It doesn’t serve the people.
Fishbowl: The world is full of opposites.
Borofsky: There are so many examples. Your heart beats in and your heart beats out and you really have to have both going in unison and synchronized or else you have a heart attack and you don’t live long. I just try to make symbols that have an idealism involved. It’s like putting out your best energy. You’re taught that. Do your best. Put out your best energy. And that’s all you can do and not spend too much time with people that carry negativity as part of their daily lives.
Fishbowl: What would you tell the developers who say they’re studying whether your sculpture should be moved?
Borofsky: I think creatively they should put out their best effort, and if they feel creatively it would serve their purposes to remove the sculpture, that’s their creative effort. They’re just not alone in the process, number one, and number two, as I said, I’m not sure we’re putting a highway through the front of the 1911 train station there. It sounds like we’re putting a park-like tree situation there, so it sounds like somebody’s making an aesthetic decision on their own. An architect’s entitled to their vision, and then a discussion takes place.
Fishbowl: You’re saying they have to make a good case for it. It’s like any preservation project: if something better is going to replace what’s there already, you can make an argument maybe, but they need to make a strong argument for that.
Borofsky: You have to make an extremely strong argument. A lot of energy and a lot of money have gone into producing this object and placing it there. In this day and age, using the internet, you can whip people into a frenzy very easily by whatever means. The object is there, and it’s there with good intentions. And three-quarters of a million dollars went into putting it there. So there better be some good reasons other than we don’t think it fits.
Fishbowl: Let’s talk about money and what it took to put the sculpture where it is. The price in 2004 was $750,000. What would it be worth today?
Borofsky: I don’t know.
Fishbowl: What have your latest pieces sold for?
Borofsky: I don’t like talking about that, but I can say that this piece, it’s somewhere between $1.5 million and $2.5 million probably, somewhere in that zone.
Fishbowl: This sculpture was made in a factory you work with outside Los Angeles and then shipped to Baltimore. How many people did it take to install it?
Borofsky: A crew of four or maybe five. A piece like that, I would always bring my people from Los Angeles. They’re the ones that install. So we maybe brought three or four people. Then usually the site we’re at provides three or four people as well for uncrating and deconstructing and getting things laid out. You have cranes and crane operators and trucks. So there’s a peripheral number of people aside from the base crew that I bring with me from Los Angeles.
Fishbowl: You said anything can be moved, even the Empire State Building. Can this sculpture really be moved without being damaged, and what would it cost?
Borofsky: Most likely, yes. Most likely. That’s one of the unknowns in terms of the danger of when you’re craning something like that — how you position it, if it torques or if something happens and suddenly it triples the cost to redo it? But most likely, for close to $150,000 to $250,000, it could be. It really depends on so many factors. But yes, it can be dis-attached from the plaza. I can’t say how much would get disturbed [and need to be repaired]. That’s the unknown factor of what it would cost.
Fishbowl: Even if they just moved it five feet, it would be an expensive proposition.
Borofsky: It doesn’t slide sideways. That’s why I say, probably the minimum is $150,000. But it really depends on things going correctly. That’s why there would have to be insurance policies and whatever taken out, in case the whole thing torques while being craned.
Fishbowl: People in Baltimore are familiar with Confederate statues getting lifted off a pedestal and whisked away in the middle of the night, or the Christopher Columbus statue getting dumped in the harbor. Is this a comparable situation, from a purely logistical standpoint?
Borofsky: You just can’t quite put a hook on it and lift it without putting a lot of stress on different areas. It’s one thing if you have a 25-foot bronze. You can lift it up and do that. But this is a big piece.
Fishbowl: Would it have to be broken into sections?
A: I think a lot of it would hold together at this point…I would have to sit down with the fabricators and look at our engineering plans and see where the stress points are of lifting that piece up as one whole piece. It might have to be broken down. That’s where it gets trickier. That’s why I can’t give you a real answer [about cost].
Fishbowl: But potentially it could be moved without totally destroying it?
Borofsky: The key is without totally destroying it. It could be moved without destroying it. How much it would take to do that, as I say, it’s at least maybe $150,000 and at the most $250,000. But there’s an unknown factor. If the thing gets torqued and twisted badly, then the whole piece has to be made over because once you’ve disturbed the honeycomb [structure] inside there’s no going back on that. You make the whole piece over. I would like to think that’s not going to happen, but I don’t know. I’d have to get engineers involved and I’m hoping it doesn’t get to that. It’s a good piece and it’s a nice place for it and I wrote a few words to describe why it’s a good reason to keep it there and that’s all I can do for everyone.
Click here for part two of the interview with Jonathan Borofsky.