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How ‘Male/Female’ came to Penn Station (and why it should stay where it is) | READER COMMENTARY

The "Male/Female" statue at Penn Station oversees luggage on the plaza. Baltimore's relationship with Jonathan Borofsky's landmark statue has not always been an easy one since it was installed in 2004. (Gabriella Demczuk/Baltimore Sun).
The "Male/Female" statue at Penn Station oversees luggage on the plaza. Baltimore's relationship with Jonathan Borofsky's landmark statue has not always been an easy one since it was installed in 2004. (Gabriella Demczuk/Baltimore Sun). (Gabriella Demczuk, Baltmore Sun photo)

Recent articles in The Baltimore Sun and Baltimore Fishbowl have raised the question of the future of the “Male/Female” sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky in front of Baltimore’s Penn Station. It is worth recounting the inception of that sculpture for the benefit of both context and consideration of the current Penn Station renovations (”Who should decide the fate of Baltimore’s oft-reviled 51-foot-tall, ‘Male/Female’ statue?” June 8).

In 1999, the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City wanted to contribute a major sculpture to Baltimore in honor of MASB’s centennial. The MASB was founded in 1899 “to provide sculptural and pictoral [sic] decoration and ornaments for the public buildings, streets and open spaces in the City of Baltimore, and to help generally beautify the City.” As the MASB was seeking a site for its project, city officials suggested the plaza in front of the train station, as this was intended for, and at the time was without, a sculpture. Working with a number of consultants including the highly-regarded Public Art Fund, Mr. Borofsky was selected to create a piece for that location. There were a number of proposals but the board of the MASB selected Male/Female as, in the artist’s words, “a symbol of unity and balance.”

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Before being erected, the sculpture proceeded to go through an extensive review process and was approved by the Maryland Institute College of Art, the University of Baltimore, the Commission on Historic and Architectural Preservation, The Baltimore City Art Commission and Amtrak. There were also public presentations and articles in the Sun before approval was granted. It took several years for the entire process to be completed but in 2004, the sculpture was installed.

Accordingly, the MASB had already sought the expertise and public approval that The Sun now suggests be put forth all over again. The sculpture was intended to be permanent in that particular location, but times change and if there is to be a moment of reconsideration, as the development of Penn Station as a transit hub is being advanced, this surely is it.

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The sculpture exists on a location above the station garage that is structurally designed to bear the weight of a sculpture. Moving Male/Female elsewhere in the plaza area would likely require structural reinforcement of the garage, an added cost to the expense of such a move. As the developers have described, Amtrak owns the land whereas the city owns the garage, plaza and sculpture.

In the artist’s words, “We each strive for unity and balance in our everyday lives. The city of Baltimore, and especially the train station, where many thousands of people from all walks of life come and go every day, has always felt like an excellent location to celebrate this universal idea.”

Whether in its current or in a new location, the MASB, for one, would like to see Male/Female stay a part of the Penn Station plaza as a beacon of tolerance and as a welcome to visitors and residents of Baltimore. The Society continues its nearly 125-year history of funding public art projects in Baltimore (the most recent involves the newly-renovated Lexington Market), and we look forward to the conversation about Male/Female’s future.

Peter Doo, Baltimore

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The writer is president of the Municipal Art Society of Baltimore City.

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