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Philadelphia has a new iconic sculpture made of giant letters. Like most art, it holds multiple meanings — but this one literally changes depending how you look at it.
Titled “OY/YO,” the work by artist Deborah Kass was scheduled to be installed Sunday outside the Weitzman National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall in Old City.
From that vantage point, the sculpture shouts a perfect Philly welcome to tourists lining up to see the Liberty Bell: “Yo!” It also embodies independence as the Spanish first-person pronoun. Viewed from the other side, however, it has an equally appropriate message for our times: “Oy.”
The intentional contrast has made the artwork famous since Kass first created it in New York City half a decade ago.
“I created OY/YO thinking about the American promise of equality and fairness and our responsibilities to make the country a better place for all,” the artist’s statement says. “With hate and division now on the rise, it is urgent to see our commonalities, what we share, and what brings us together.”
Kass is originally from San Antonio, Texas, and lives in Brooklyn, but she does have a Pennsylvania connection: her master’s in painting comes from Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh.
Her sculpture will be at 5th and Market streets for at least the next year. As incentive to go see it in person, here’s a list of 10 things to know about “OY/YO.”
- It’s big: 8 feet tall, 16 feet wide, and 5 feet deep.
- It’s made of aluminum, painted “Lamborghini” yellow.
- Kass was inspired by Ed Ruscha’s word painting “OOF” (it hangs in the MoMA).
- She originally created “OY/YO” as a painting before turning it into a sculpture.
- Like the LOVE sculpture, there are more than one — Philly’s will be the third.
- The first “OY/YO” was installed in Brooklyn Bridge Park in 2015, and was then moved to outside the Brooklyn Museum.
- That edition was recently partially wrapped in blue, as a show of support for the Ukrainian people.
- A second one was installed outside Stanford University’s Cantor Art Center in 2019.
- Kass has done other versions, too — some that are smaller in 3D, and others that are large but flat, like the one on a wall in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards.
- The Philly sculpture has already been added as a stop on Old City tour buses.