Renoir-inspired statue makes debut at PPG Plaza

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It took three days, a 50-ton lift and a 70-foot flatbed to install Seward Johnson’s statue “A Turn of the Century,” at PPG Plaza.

Passers-by on their way to Market Square Monday through the plaza stopped, took out their headphones and gazed at the 20-foot-tall, 14,440-pound monumental bronze sculpture.

The likeness of a Parisian couple dancing was celebrated Tuesday as the Freya String Quartet played “La Vie En Rose,” among other works, and the Point Park University Conservatory Dance Company, dressed in bright red, performed “Memoirs in Renoir.” As the crowd waited for the ribbon cutting, Paris-trained mime Mark Conway Thompson, dressed as Marcel Marceau’s character, attempted to mop water back into the plaza’s dancing water fountain.

"This is another endeavor to give Pittsburgh the look and feel of a European City,“ Elizabeth Tata, president of Laurel Foundation, said.

The statue, which has been displayed in other cities, is based on an 1883 life-sized painting by impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Dance at Bougival.”

Renoir used two of his close friends as models for the piece, which evokes the scene at open-air cafes in the Paris suburb of Bougival. Ms. Tata said the foundation brought the sculpture to Pittsburgh because the work reflects the “city with European flair,” with many plazas and open-air cafes.

The Laurel Foundation was started by Mellon heiress and philanthropist Cordelia Scaife May in 1951 to preserve the city’s culture and history. Since May’s death in 2005, Ms. Tata said, the foundation honors her legacy by bringing people to the city with interesting and unique works. 

The foundation rented the sculpture for $22,000, which included hauling the three pieces and gluing them together, and it will stay in PPG Plaza until Oct. 3 before the ice rink is installed. Ms. Tata said she hopes the sculpture will bring people to the city. Already, a bridal party took pictures imitating the couple Saturday as the piece was being installed.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said at the ceremony he also hopes the statue will bring people to the city. 

"We’re a city known for making things and building things, but we are also known for our arts,“ he said. 

This is not the first time Mr. Johnson’s work has been featured in the city. His sculpture of the same outsize dimensions, “Forever Marilyn,” which replicated the photo of Marilyn Monroe holding down her white dress over a sidewalk grate, made a brief appearance in Pittsburgh this April during the travel from Palm Springs, Calif., to Hamilton, N.J.

In 2012, the Laurel Foundation also brought to Gateway Center 15 life-sized sculptures from Mr. Johnson’s "Man on the Street“ series, showing people engaged in everyday activities such as painting or washing a window. One of those sculptures, “Sidewalk Judge,” was purchased and sits on a bench permanently there.

Sarah Schneider:, 412-263-1760.

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