Art Commission approves Family Court roof plantings, new Barnes outdoor sculpture

    • The Barnes Totem in situ
      The Barnes Totem in situ
    • Family Court rooftop
      Family Court rooftop
    • Ellsworth Kelly with drawing of The Barnes Totem
      Ellsworth Kelly with drawing of The Barnes Totem
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A brief Art Commission meeting Wednesday granted final approval to rooftop plantings on the under-construction Family Court building.

It also granted what amounted to a routine stamp to a proposed sculpture by Ellsworth Kelly for the grounds of the new Barnes Foundation museum.

The built-in planters will rise one foot above the roof level of the Family Court building and be filled with English ivy strung along stainless steel wires.

The greenery is a concession to residents of the Metropolitan, the Art Deco apartment tower that sits across the street, who were opposed to the recently approved insertion of one more story into the Family Court building.

Jeffrey Reinhold, owner of the Metropolitan, said the design as a "good compromise" even if "we didn't want to see the [extra] floor built."

In presenting the concept drawings for the new Kelly sculpture, William W. McDowell, Senior Building Project Executive, outlined the situation — near the front entrance of the building at the junction of three paths — and size of the 40-foot zigzag form, called The Barnes Totem.

Barnes' chief curator Judith Dolkart provided further detail about the artistry of the sculpture — it will be fabricated from bead-blasted stainless steel — and Kelly's career and influences.

The Barnes was apparently confident of a go-ahead because it released details of the piece to the Philadelphia Inquirer and The New York Times several days ago.

At Wednesday's hearing, Commissioner Emanuel Kelly praised the work as another example of the Barnes' commitment to the Parkway, while Commission Chair Moe Brooker extolled it as in keeping with Dr. Albert Barnes' interest in contemporary art.

The work also marks the return of Ellsworth Kelly, now 88 years old, to Philadelphia, although no one is making as big a deal out of that as might be expected.

In 1998, his 64-foot long wall sculpture, made up of 104 multi-hued anodized aluminum panels, was suddenly removed from the lobby of a building on the 1700 block of Market Street where it had been installed for two decades.

Purchased by Ronald Lauder for $1 million, the piece was exhibited at a New York City gallery before being donated to the Museum of Modern Art.

Contact the reporter at and follow her on Twitter @joanngreco

About the author

JoAnn Greco, writer

JoAnn Greco writes about parks and recreation, preservation, public space, and architecture for PlanPhilly. Her articles on design, cities, and the built environment have appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Washington Post, Canada's Globe and Mail, National Parks, Metropolis, Interiors, Art & Antiques,, Planning, Next American City, Urban Land, and Hospitality Design. In addition, she has written for dozens of other consumer, custom, and trade outlets, from Brides to The Wall Street Journal, from AARP to Wine Enthusiast. She also owns and edits, an online magazine dedicated to urban destinations.

JoAnn was born in Brooklyn, New York and moved to Philadelphia in 1991. She has lived in Rittenhouse Square, Old City, and now owns a home in Bella Vista.

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