Anyone who frequents the trains on the Northeast Corridor is likely familiar with the largely dilapidated industrial area surrounding the tunnels at Amtrak’s 30th Street Station.
It’s not the prettiest sight to see.
But the executive director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, Jane Golden, says her organization has been thinking for a long time about what could be done to beautify the space. She believes the project they’ve come up with will leave riders in thought-provoking awe.
"I think the project is particularly wonderful, and evocative; challenging, and beautiful," Golden said. “Poetic is the word that comes to mind. I just think that it will be a treat for all of the people who are on the train line to have this experience.”
By next spring, commuters can expect to see a vibrant change to the space thanks to a temporary public art installation project created by world-renowned visual artist Katharina Grosse that will be presented by the Mural Arts Program.
The project, which was funded by a grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, will include a plethora of painted colors along the vacant buildings and grounds surrounding the station, creating a ‘real-time landscape painting.’
SEPTA spokesman Kristin Geiger says the new mural installation will give SEPTA riders something special to look forward to.
"When completed, we feel this will be a great opportunity for SEPTA riders to enjoy seeing the vibrant splashes of colorful artwork during their daily commute," Geiger said.
Vice President of Northeast Corridor Infrastructure & Investment Development for Amtrak Stephen Gardner says his team is also looking forward to the new art installation.
"Amtrak is pleased to cooperate with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s plans to bring this innovative project to the Northeast Corridor. We applaud this creative effort to enliven & enrich our passengers' journeys through Philadelphia," Gardner said.
The project’s creator, Grosse, lives and works in Berlin. Her artistic creations can be found on display in public spaces in Europe and in the U.S.
In a press release, Grosse said she believes she’s created a display that would take people on a journey through space.
"The work shifts your notion of size through movement, so when you stand in front of it, it’s huge, but when you pass it by on the train it becomes small," Grosse said. "This kind of experience — that your life is constantly in that kind of changing mode — is something I’ve always been fascinated by. And this time we have an extra tool, which is the train. In a museum you walk, and that’s the way you move. Here, you can fly."
According to Golden, the project is still in the early stages of research. A team of artists will be taught to apply Grosse’s painting technique, and will begin creating the mural in April of next year. The mural will be formally dedicated in May.
In the weeks surrounding the mural dedication, the Mural Arts Program will host several artist talks, including a discussion between Grosse and Philadelphia Museum of Art contemporary curator Carlos Basualdo.
Perhaps the most unexpected and unfortunate aspect of the mural is that it will eventually fade. But Golden says the project was designed to fade for a reason: to spark new ideas about what can be done with the space in the future.
"So, this will be for a moment in time. It would be my hope and the hope of our organization that this project will be catalytic; that it will capture people’s imagination in a really big and bold way, and that it will give us, and the City, ideas of the potential of what can be done along this rail corridor, that is underutilized and potentially a really interesting space," she said.
"I think that we can dream big and be aspirational, and at the same time we can be very pragmatic and deal with this problem that exists; that when people leave and enter Philadelphia they are confronted with this area filled with empty buildings and rubble, and figure out how do we transform that into something really interesting."