Going, going ...

August 14, 2006

With a plan in the works to convert the upper floors of Penn Station into a hotel, and to build loft apartments in the old Post Office building across from it on St. Paul Street, this might be a good time to think again about Male/Female, the big four-armed metallic sculpture blinking its illuminated heart out on the circle in front of the station.

The thing has stood there for two years now. People have taken the measure of it, and a lot of them don't like it. Peter Doo, an architect and vice president of the Muncipal Art Society, which raised the $750,000 that was needed to present the sculpture to the city, says its supporters are more numerous than you might suppose but keep quiet about it. But he also says, "I think Baltimore has a hard time with contemporary art. Maybe Baltimore needs more contemporary art. Maybe Baltimore needs an education."

Maybe. But the it's-modern-art-and-you-just-don't-get-it argument, which Male/Female's defenders tend to rely on, is not exactly an invitation to further discussion. And the problem, if you think about it, may not actually be with the sculpture itself. The problem is in having a fairly magnificent station standing right behind it. The station can't be moved and shouldn't be demolished, so the only sensible thing is to put Male/Female in a more appropriate setting for a burnished, late-industrial, electronic piece of manipulated metal.

So, just to get the discussion going, here are a few ideas:

We don't endorse this one, but it has been suggested that Male-Female could be installed in place of the left field foul pole at Camden Yards. The heart could beat red for a foul, green for a home run.

A better idea would be to put it out on the B-W Parkway at the city line, where that guy used to hang that "Hon" sign.

An even better idea would be to put it out on Locust Point, by the rail yards and cranes and piers where the cruise ships now dock, a Male/Female "aloha" to bid travelers welcome and farewell, coming and going.

But our favorite suggestion is to put it on top of the Bromo Seltzer building. People could see it for miles around: the pumping heart of Baltimore. It wouldn't be as kitschy as the big bottle that stood there years ago, and at least no one could argue that Baltimore doesn't like modern art.

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