Thursday, May 24, 2012

Butt-Fugly Public Art of the Week-- May 24th

Bolt of Lightning  by Isamu Noguchi

200 North 6th Street

Trash. Image by
                                I'm definitely not the first one to talk shit about this big metal pile of fuck. It looks like a beacon used to contact anal probing aliens. Bolt of Lightning doesn't just look like butt, its in a butt location as well. You take your life into your hands trying to get near this thing.
                              Legend has it that the artist, Isamu Noguchi, first conceived of this assfruit in 1933. The Fairmount Part Art Association held its first Sculpture International exhibition in that year, part of which was a competition for a new sculpture for Fairmount Park along West River Drive.  Noguchi contributed a bunch of sculptures and drawings to the cause. Supposedly, one of the drawings was of a monument to Ben Franklin depicting that whole "kite and key" thing. Noguchi claimed he was inspired by radio towers.
                            In 1979, the Philadelphia Museum of Art had a retrospective exhibiting all of Noguchi's shit from over the years. Among the items exhibited was the old sketch of the giant streel whale dildo. Trustees from the Fairmount Park Art Association peeped the drawing and talked about getting it built in honor of the city's upcoming tricentennial in 1982. Noguchi was commissioned to develop the sketch into a buildable mega-kite of imperial cockmeat.

Model of the final design from
                        Because it would be a such a top-heavy design, Noguchi had to consult with NYC engineering firm Weidlinger Associates to figure out how the fuck this 58 ton monster would stay standing. Guy wires were added to hold the motherfucker up. Of course, Noguchi had to make up some bullshit about the wires being "the eternal and essential contact between air and earth". What nonsense.
                       Despite originally being conceived to stand in Fairmount Park, the FPAA gave Noguchi the choice of location. Noguchi then made the worst fucking decision of his life. He wanted the 106-foot sculpture to stand in Memorial Park, the nearly unreachable plaza at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge. That big triangular "park" was originally designed to be an underground trolley transfer hub... it was never completed. This caused a shitty sculpture to be standing in a shitty spot. Only zooming motorists would ever get close enough to look at it. Just try to cross over to Memorial Park during rush hour. You will die.
                   The final design is ridiculous. Why is the lightning bolt UNDER the kite? Why does it look like the key is holding the kite? Why did anyone ever think this was good? Bah. Legend has it that the design was considered so ugly that DRPA only approved it because it might distract away from an upcoming bridge toll hike. With some city money and a big-ass grant from the estate of George Dunton Widener (Bringer of the Ritz Carlton who went down with the Titanic), the $865,000 skyturd was built and dedicated on September 16th, 1984, 2 years overdue.
                       Once completed, Bolt of Lightning got its ass kissed by some and rightly shit upon by others. "...Fails in its intended purpose by every major criterion" is probably the best official dig the press took at the sculpture. That quote pretty much sums it up like how Carl Sagan on Cosmos would sum up a huge astrological concept into one sentence that explains the entire thing.

"Billions of billions of Fuck" -Carl Sagan standing in front of Boston's brutalist City Hall.
                        I agree that there should be a large sculpture depicting the kite and key story, but this is definitely not it. Instead of that stupid lightning kite, there should be a 100-foot statue/fountain of Ben Franklin that would piss water onto the incoming cars from the bridge. Give those suburbanites a good ol' Philly welcome they will never forget. I don't know what that has to do with the kite and key, but fuck it.


  1. It's funny. I don't hate this anywhere near the amount it clearly deserves. In fact, it may be the first sculpture to be realized in a way that's actually [slightly] more attractive than the conceptual model was. I always wondered why it was flanked by lighthouses from the planet Mongo, though. That part of the installation seems like it came from a totally unrelated design...

    1. Those lantern structures have nothing to do with the awful art installation. They're part of the original design and construction of the bridge and plaza. Since it was built in the 1920s, they're art deco in style, as is the bridge. That was fashionable in the 1920s.

  2. $865,000?! Jesus...

    The only thing that this thing does is tell me what I'm coming to the end of the bridge, but brake lights do that pretty well too. I love the idea of a huge Ben Franklin statues. Do something interesting for people coming from the NJ Turnpike into the city, or something. Hell, what about a big cheesesteak? Heh.

  3. It wasn't until many, MANY years later, when I finally found out what it was supposed to be that I had that "AHA!" moment. It was a very small, insignificant moment. It's still one of the most heinous piece-of-shit artwork I've ever seen at a major entryway to a city. I completely agree with you on this one.