Martin Puryear’s Big Bling, 2016


Martin Puryear created this in 2016, eight years into the last vast economic near-meltdown.

Commissioned by Madison Square Park, New York, it is on temporary loan to Philadelphia.  It is resting along the right bank of the Schulkyll River, its head turned away from the city.

 It is 40′ high and made of laminated timbers and plywood wrapped in chain link mesh.  Its shackle of fiberglass is covered with gold leaf. 

The creature faces away from the center of Philadelphia and towards the city’s north-west quadrant.

This would be surprising except for the fact that the artist has given this creature the name  The Big Bling. 

It is New York which was founded as a commercial enterprise.  William Penn’s Philadelphia has  foundations which have not to do with any form of bling.  It is good that this enormous head is not visible from the heart of the city.  Not that the bling is not everywhere now……..

The Big Bling.

The creature is – or so it seems to me –  the sensuous seduction of money which has shackled us and has tethered us like the bit through the mouth of a horse brought to a standstill, its beautiful head down. 

The scaffolding body of this creature seems to imply that we can all climb up to its shiny head.  But we cannot.   There is uninviting chain link to stop us.

Its head remains as a glittering attraction and a warning: it is the shackle which has stopped this creature in its tracks because it is heavy and heavier than its body.  It has stopped its ears and mouth and forced its eyes to the ground.

It is a quietly disturbing sight.

You can see through its body to the world around.  You can see a tree, the sky and the river sparkling on a day of sunny brilliance, through the inviting kidney hole of its body.  You cannot go through that hole.  You have to walk around this creature and distance yourself from it to reach that world.

It is disquieting. It is going back to New York soon and that is good.




The Big Bling, 2016, pressure-treated laminated timbers, plywood, fiberglass, and gold leaf.  Martin Puryear, American born 1941. 

Loaned to the City of Philadelphia in 2017 by the artist, Matthew Marks Gallery, and Madison Square Park Conservancy, NY

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