Big Bling



Article by Will Becker.

In late May, Philadelphia became home to Martin Puryear’s largest work to date, Big Bling. Martin Puryear, an American sculptor known for his devotion to traditional methods, typically creates handmade artworks using processes derived from carpentry, boat building, and other trades of stylistic dignity and craftsmanship. Wood – his signature material – is employed in Big Bling to anchor the physicality of the tremendous sculpture.

It is a fascinating combination of abstraction and contours that seem reminiscent of something familiar that you can’t quite place; animal-like, yet a creation of its own design as well. It is made up of multiple sections of pressure-treated laminated timbers, plywood, chain-link fence, fiberglass, and in particular, gold. The gold shackle is a gleaming accessory that serves as decoration and an icon of self-suppression at the same time. It sits atop the deliberately contrasting ‘body’ of the work, made of the gritty chain-link fence and wooden materials that make up most of the piece. It is extravagant and serves as the main spectacle of the work, yet its depiction as a clasp indicates the role such an ostentatious accessory can have in ineffectively attempting to deter attention away from one’s true essence.  From afar, though, the rough, organic body guarded by the chain-link fence of Big Bling fades away, and only its sleek silhouette and shimmering golden lock come into view.

Big Bling will remain in Philadelphia for six months, as a result of a collaboration between Philadelphia’s Association for Public Art and the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The Association for Public Art, formerly known as the Fairmount Park Art Association, commissioned an earlier work by Puryear, Pavilion in the Trees, which was permanently installed in Fairmount Park in 1993 almost directly across from Big Bling.

Pavilion is an open structure, consisting of a veranda supported by a series of posts using Puryear’s favored material, wood. It is situated high among the treetops, inspired by the longing for a tree house.

Big Bling will remain in Philadelphia through November 2017. The Print Center, in collaboration with the APA, will also be displaying a collection of Puryear’s prints from 1962-2016, on view from Sept 8-Nov 18. More information at