Friday, June 19, 2009

Rocky road

Twenty years ago was a great time for art controversy in the United States.

1989 had Jesse Helms fuming over Andres Serrano indirectly receiving government money via a prize for his photograph Piss Christ, the Corcoran Gallery of Art refusing a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in June and losing an important bequest in the process, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art finding itself in a tussle with United Artists over the return of the Rocky statue to the base of its steps where it had featured in Rocky III. In the movie the mayor, played by Gene Crane, tells a humble Rocky that the stature represents the “indomitable spirit of man.” And so begins a story that combines two of OTN’s great loves: art in the movies and the life and times of public sculpture.

The 2.6 metre, 650 kilo bronze statue of Rocky Balboa was initially donated to Philadelphia by Sylvester Stallone after the filming of the third Rocky movie in 1982. The sculpture was made as a movie prop by Thomas Schomberg and, if you want one, you can get a full size bronze or a 12 inch resin miniature here. Stallone no doubt thought his gift would be permanently located where it was placed for the movie but after much controversy it was moved elsewhere. In 1989 Stallone asked for it to be relocated to its original site for Rocky V. The wary Museum insisted in the agreement that the statue be removed at the end of filming but they didn’t figure on movie muscle. Stallone held a press conference, hired lawyers and whipped up a storm of support for the work to remain outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art at the top of the steps as in the movies. At first it was moved to a sports arena but on 8 September 2006 it returned to the grounds of the Museum albeit in a less prominent place at the foot of the steps.
Image: The Rocky statue as it appeared in Rocky III