Image credit: Penn Station Partners

Developers working to revitalize Penn Station and the surrounding area are exploring three options for addressing the fate of Jonathan Borofsky’s Male/Female sculpture on the plaza south of the train station.

In an hour-long meeting with Baltimore’s Public Art Commission, representatives for Penn Station Partners said the options include: keeping the city-owned sculpture where it is, moving it elsewhere within the plaza, and moving it elsewhere within the city.

John Renner, a representative of Penn Station Partners, said his team does not have a preferred option but hopes to have a recommendation for the city to consider by the end of the year, perhaps sooner.

“In terms of the developers’ preference, we don’t have one,” Renner said. “There’s a bunch of developers that are part of the Penn Station Partners team at Beatty Development and Cross Street Partners, and if you talked to each of us individually you’d find a wide variety of perspectives.”

Photo courtesy Jonathan Borofsky.

Renner added that he believes his own opinion ultimately doesn’t matter. “We’re seeking some type of public consensus on the issue, however naïve it may be to arrive at that.”

“Even amongst the design team, there are a lot of different opinions on this, thoughts and reactions that are constantly changing and evolving,” said landscape architect Tom McGilloway, with the firm of Mahan Rykiel Associates.

The panel, which advises Mayor Brandon Scott on issues pertaining to city-owned works of art, took no action after the presentation. Members of the panel told the development team they would like to be involved in its planning and design process so they aren’t presented at the last minute with a fait accompli they’re forced to accept.

Commission members also said they would like the developers to participate in or perhaps even lead a community outreach process that could give the Maryland Institute College of Art, Central Baltimore Partnership, and others a meaningful say in what happens to the $750,000 sculpture, which was donated to the city in 2004 by the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore. It’s the most expensive gift of art the city has ever received.

Penn Station Partners has a master development agreement with Amtrak to revitalize the 1911 train station and other development parcels around it, and its long-range plan represents a proposed investment in the area of nearly $500 million.

In a meeting last March with members of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the developers presented preliminary plans showing the plaza in front of the train station without the sculpture in place, raising questions about its fate.

Following that presentation, Kirk Shannon-Butts, Public Art and Curation Manager for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, asked the developers to brief the Public Art Commission on the project.

Renner said today that the development team acknowledges the city owns the sculpture and the plaza where it’s located, which is actually the roof of a city-owned garage. He said his team would like to have a say in the way it looks and functions since it’s a gateway to the train station, but the developers know any changes would need city approval.

“I hope I’ve been consistent in saying we as the developers and designers of Penn Station have no jurisdiction over the statue. We don’t even have jurisdiction of the plaza,” he said.

Renner and McGilloway stressed that the team is still in a relatively early stage of its design process for the plaza and doesn’t have a hidden agenda regarding the sculpture.

“We can’t avoid the issue and we hope to be part of a public dialogue about the sculpture,” Renner said. “There already is one going on. We do think the plaza itself can be reconfigured to be more pedestrian-friendly and have more programming, and that can happen with or without the sculpture.”

“We are in the stage of exploration and asking a lot of questions,” McGilloway told the panel. “By no means are we doing this in a cavalier manner. We recognize the importance of this installation. It’s an established part of the Penn Station identity…We’re not coming to this with any preconceived notions.”

Image credit: Penn Station Partners

Other speakers at the meeting included Peter Doo, president of the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore, Ashley Wallace, deputy director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, and C. Ryan Patterson, public art project manager for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Much of the meeting was a discussion about the pros and cons of the three options. McGilloway said the least expensive option would be keeping the sculpture where it is and modifying the plaza around it while moving the sculpture likely would spark controversy. He noted that maintaining the present location also wouldn’t cause any delays in the project’s construction timetable while moving it might.

On the other hand, he said, keeping the sculpture where it is limits options for how the plaza can be used and “interferes with axial views” of the symmetrical train station. Moving the sculpture off dead center of the plaza, by contrast, “allows for the most flexibility” in how the plaza is used, he said.

Peng Gu, the president of Mahan Rykiel, said one of the team’s goals is to make the plaza in front of Penn Station more usable as a setting for public events and gatherings. By moving the sculpture from the middle of the plaza to one side, she said, the team could gain a larger space for events and performances yet people would still be able to see the sculpture at the train station.

“We want to make this plaza a civic plaza, a signature gateway to the city,” she said. “But we also want this plaza to be useful to the neighborhood…So providing that tree canopy, increasing the green space and making it more [park-like], that was one of the intents, benefiting the neighborhood.”

The benefit of moving the sculpture to another part of the city, McGilloway said,  is that a different location “may open up opportunities” to people to see it and interact with it.

One issue with moving the sculpture elsewhere than on the roof of the train station garage is that the current location was structurally designed and reinforced to bear the sculpture’s weight, while any alternate location would have to be similarly reinforced, Doo said.

Another issue that came up during the discussion was identifying the source of funding for moving the sculpture, which is 52 feet tall. Borofsky has estimated that a move could cost $150,000 to $250,000. The panel members said they didn’t think the city and its taxpayers should have to pay for it.

Aaron Bryant, chairman of the commission, said the fate of the sculpture is too important to be decided in one meeting.

“It most certainly looks like it’s something that’s going to be coming back to the commission a few more times,” he said. “I think it’s a really important conversation for the community to have.”

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

4 replies on “Developers present three options for Penn Station’s Male/Female sculpture”

  1. Let’s cut to the chase: start a GoFundMe appeal and when the pot reaches $200k or so, bring in the crane. O’Donnell Square needs a new center piece so perhaps the statue can become a celebration of whatever it is that it celebrates.

  2. Good point John Not only is the male female statue weirdly provocative it reflects heat in the summer like a bolt of lightening when exiting the train station. Perhaps it could be relegated to the graveyard of Baltimore’s statuary hall of shame

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