Beloved ‘Grumman Greenhouse’ plane sculpture is leaving Lenfest Plaza
Grumman Greenhouse, the sculpture of an upright and contorted Cold War Era Navy war plane converted into a greenhouse, which has animated Lenfest Square, will soon stand no more.
It appeared to have dropped from the sky — and it stayed much longer than expected.
But Grumman Greenhouse, the sculpture of an upright and contorted Cold War-era Navy warplane converted into a greenhouse, which has animated Lenfest Square at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts since 2011, will soon stand no more.
The piece, designed by 2008 PAFA graduate Jordan Griska, is set to be removed from its platform next week and replaced this fall with a sculpture by mid-century artist John Rhoden, entitled Art Safari.
The new piece will highlight a major retrospective of Rhoden’s work in partnership with the African American Museum of Philadelphia set for 2023, said Anna Marley, PAFA’s chief of curatorial affairs.
“Grumman Greenhouse has truly become a beloved fixture in Lenfest Plaza,” Marley said. “We didn’t know how popular it was going to be and how long it was going to stay.”
Made from a 45-foot-long, twin-engine Tracker II — built by the Grumman Corp. as a submarine hunter — Grumman Greenhouse was originally installed as an inaugural piece of a planned rotating series of installments meant to bring life to the sun-starved plaza that runs a half block of Cherry Street, west of Broad.
With Claes Oldenburg’s giant, whimsical paintbrush at the other end of the plaza, the sight of the twisty plane with a garden growing out of its cockpit became a curious and engaging fixture for students, neighborhood children, Convention Center tourists, and anyone who found themselves cutting through the plaza for a shortcut.
Griska, who purchased the surplus plane on eBay for $300,000, kept the plane’s original insignia, bending forward the fuselage and removing a wing so it appeared the plane was crumpling into its platform. Where the crew and bombs once sat, he installed solar panels and a vegetable and herb garden, maintained by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and helping feed low-income families.
“These repurposed finished pieces simultaneously lead the viewer to contemplate the history of ‘the thing’ while changing the function of the object,” Griska explained of the piece, which Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski described in his 2011 review as delivering “a dramatic dose of novelty and social consciousness.”
“It was a beacon,” said Marley.
Griska, who is based out of Philadelphia, will oversee the removal of his most famous sculpture, which will be dismantled piece by piece, and carted off to storage and for repairs. He said he hopes to find a new home for it soon — one in Philadelphia.
“It’s been such a positive experience,” he said. “I feel lucky lucky to have exhibited there, in such a prominent space for 11 years, and I’m looking forward to the next journey for the plane.”