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PAFA acquires monumental Afro pick first displayed near Rizzo statue

Hank Willis Thomas' All Power to All People (2017) first appeared as part of Mural Arts' Monument Lab public sculpture initiative.

Hank Willis Thomas' All Power to All People (2017), on view across from Philadelphia City Hall as part of Monument Lab 2017. Steve Weinik
Hank Willis Thomas' All Power to All People (2017), on view across from Philadelphia City Hall as part of Monument Lab 2017. Steve WeinikRead moreSteve Weinik

Hank Willis Thomas' monumental Afro pick, best known for its provocative display last year near the statue of Mayor Frank L. Rizzo in front of the Municipal Services Building, has been acquired by the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Formally titled All Power to All People, the 800-pound aluminum-and-steel sculpture, rising 12 feet from its prongs to its clenched-fist handle, spent about two months on Thomas Paine Plaza across from City Hall as part of the Mural Arts Philadelphia-backed initiative Monument Lab.

Brooke Davis Anderson, director of the museum at PAFA, said the Thomas work would go on display in the late fall, although where is still under discussion.

"We're going to design a pedestal so we can actually move it," Anderson said Friday. "We're so excited. It's such a great sculpture." Indoor and outdoor locations are under consideration, she said.

When the piece first went on display here, a little more than a year ago, it caused something of a ruckus because of its proximity to Rizzo and its appearance just a month after vandals spray-painted the phrase "Black Power" on Rizzo's statue.

"The central guiding principle of Monument Lab is the question, 'What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?' " Mural Arts founder Jane Golden said at the time. "That's the question our curators asked all the artists who submitted proposals last year, and the question they also asked Hank."

>> READ MORE: Philly's big new art project asks: Who deserves a monument, anyway?

Anderson said PAFA was motivated to acquire the piece for a number of reasons.

Thomas, 41, who is based in New York City but spent his childhood in Philadelphia and Washington, is an important sculptor, she said.

PAFA was also a hub for Monument Lab activities, Anderson noted, and curator of contemporary art Jodi Throckmorton kept "an eye on what works might have a life beyond their site-specific exhibition."

Throckmorton said she was pleased to take All Power to All People under PAFA's wing,  deeming it "an iconic Philadelphia public artwork during Monument Lab" last fall.

"Hank Willis Thomas is one of the most exciting artists working today," she said.

Brittany Webb, curator of the John Rhoden Collection at PAFA, expressed satisfaction that "Thomas' sculpture will have a home in Philadelphia."

The Thomas acquisition was announced along with several other works, including a group of six 19th century etchings by artists Stephen Parrish, Charles Adam Platt, Theodore Robinson, Frank Weston Benson, Ernest David Roth, and Julian Alden Weir, and two works by Alice Kent Stoddard (1883–1976), a PAFA graduate and American painter of portraits, landscapes, and seascapes.

PAFA officials said the acquisitions cost about $135,000 in total.