Defining Philadelphia for the Twenty-First CenturyLaura M. Holzman
Thomas Eakins’s 1875 painting, The Gross Clinic, the Rocky statue, and the Barnes Foundation are all iconic in Philadelphia for different reasons. But around the year 2000, this painting, this sculpture, and this entire art collection, respectively, generated extended—and heated—controversies about the “appropriate” location for each item. Contested Image revisits the debates that surrounded these works of visual culture and how each item changed through acts of reception—through the ways that viewers looked at, talked about, and used these objects to define their city.
Laura Holzman investigates the negotiations and spirited debates that affected the city of Philadelphia’s identity and its public image. She considers how the region’s cultural resources reshaped the city’s reputation as well as delves into discussions about official efforts to boost local spirit. In tracking these “contested images,” Holzman illuminates the messy process of public envisioning of place and the ways in which public dialogue informs public meaning of both cities themselves and the objects of urban identity.
“Contested Image is a powerful description of how art permeates the social and cultural fabric of a city. From an important masterpiece to an iconic institution to a popular attraction, each case is a symbol of our city’s identity and soul. Holzman is to be commended for her deep understanding of the objects and institutions that have come to symbolize Philadelphia. Her work sits beautifully at the intersection of the public, private, social, civic, and aesthetic. This book is for all of us who love this city in all its complexities, quirks, and charm.”
—Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia
“Juxtaposing what seem at first glance to be three very different case studies that happen to occur in Philadelphia, Contested Image weaves a compelling history that links place, patrimony, and pop culture and ultimately questions what it means for artwork to become ‘public.’ By including the voices of not only the city’s cultural elite but also many people often left out of art world dialogues—the working class, advocates for the homeless—Holzman’s meticulously researched and engaging narrative stresses the importance of debate in creating public meaning, memory, and value and in so doing reveals a nuanced and multivalent identity for the City of Brotherly Love.”
—A. Joan Saab, Susan B. Anthony Professor of Art History and Visual and Cultural Studies and Vice Provost of Academic Affairs, University of Rochester
"The book explores the debates about how cultural resources can shape a city's reputation and define it for residents. It would be of most interest to people who live in Philadelphia."
— Pennsylvania Magazine
" (Holzman) grapples with site-specificity in all of its complexities, a topic of particular interest to those working with public art. The Barnes, The Gross Clinic , and Rocky (statue) were all relocated around that time, albeit for different reasons.... (She) offers the historic context and relationships among these three case studies in meticulous detail.... Contested Image is a panoramic work, with careful attention to detail and certain application beyond Philadelphia."
— Public Art Dialogue
"(T)his is a welcome addition to the literature on urban symbolism. The book is full of sharp insights into how we talk about art, how we think of cities as characters, and how the past creeps into the present."
"Through three case studies situated in a specific place and time, Holman weaves a well-supported argument that art can change a city’s self-image. Contested Image contributes not only to the literature about public art, but also to the discussion about how art creates an identity for a city. Crafters of public policy should take note."
—Journal of Urban Affairs
"This book is the result of research involving various kinds of citizen participation: documentary archives, printed press and online posting between 1990 and 2012. All of these resources are used to explain how public dialogues turned these three historical objects, that seemed to carry within them a certain image of the city, into pictures. Contested Image dedicates one chapter to each case, drawing them together in a final, concluding chapter."