Split Button (1981)

Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia

Split Button (1981)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, United States

Created By: PocketSights

Point of Interest Details

Artist: Claes Oldenburg (1929-) & Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009)
Location: University of Pennsylvania, Locust Walk Between 34th and 36th Streets

Since commonplace, mass-produced objects dominate American life, Claes Oldenburg makes them the subjects of monuments. Oldenburg’s collaborator on the project was his wife, art historian Coosje van Bruggen, who has worked with him since 1976 on large-scale sculptures. Split Button was commissioned by the University of Pennsylvania as part of the Redevelopment Authority’s 1% program.

Like his Clothespin at Centre Square, the Split Button uses incongruity to snap the viewer to attention. It also incorporates a specific visual joke, for Oldenburg speculated that the nearby statue of a corpulent Benjamin Franklin is missing one button. At first the artists planned to create an unbroken button of a grayish-black color, set parallel to the ground to form a bench. But after the initial design was approved, Oldenburg and van Bruggen developed the concept further, giving the button both a fracture and a tilt and painting it entirely white. Oldenburg’s monuments generally cause controversy, and Split Button was no exception. Over the years, however, the Button has become a familiar part of the campus environment. Despite its tilt, students often sit on it. Children play on it and under it and poke their hands through the holes. The inventive Ben Franklin, were he consulted, might well approve this use of his missing button.

This point of interest is part of the tour: Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia


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