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An exhibit at the Arthur Ross Gallery offers a revealing look at some treasures of the University’s art collection—but a walk around campus works, too.


It’s a brutally hot morning in early July, and as the temperature gallops toward 100 degrees, Lynn Marsden-Atlass is leading me on a treasure hunt of Penn’s scattered art collection. The director of the Arthur Ross Gallery since 2008, Marsden-Atlass was named curator of the University’s art holdings earlier this year. As we step out the doors of the Fisher Fine Arts Library, where the gallery is housed, we’re headed for Van Pelt Library first, where she plans to show me a pair of Albrecht Dürer prints from the turn of the 16th century. But before we even reach the building’s front steps, a trio of works on College Green catches her eye.

“We have amazing art everywhere on this campus,” she says, gesturing to the Split Button in front of her, the LOVE sculpture farther down Locust Walk, and the 1899 bronze statue of a seated Benjamin Franklin (not to be confused with the striding Young Ben outside Weightman Hall or Ben on the Bench at 37th and Locust Walk). “A major portion of the University’s collection is out in public spaces, and since we don’t have a museum [to house Penn’s art collection], that’s a really appropriate use of the works.”

Look closely, and you’ll spot these artistic treasures all around—an Auguste Rodin figure study tucked in a corner of Steinberg-Dietrich Hall; David Rittenhouse’s massive Orrery clock in Van Pelt Library; Alexander Calder’s Jerusalem Stabile outside Meyerson Hall. The University owns about 6,000 works in all, the vast majority of which are sprinkled throughout campus, visible to any student, faculty member, or other passerby.

“The strength of the collection is its variety and diversity,” Marsden-Atlass adds. “It’s also very much a public collection; I think Benjamin Franklin would like that. It’s art for the people—very democratic.”

Campus vistors can always search out Claes Oldenburg’s Split Button, the LOVE sculpture (inset), and Alexander Calder’s Jerusalem Stabile on College Green. Niki de Saint Phalle’s Standing Nana (center) is included in the Naked show.

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FEATURE: Art History Lessons by Molly Petrilla
Photography by Candace diCarlo

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