Artist reflects on the origin of game piece sculptures at Paine Plaza as they are removed for renovation

City tells artists: If you want to save sculptures, it’s ‘your move’
Thomas Paine Plaza was the site of a 2016 demonstration against President-elect Donald Trump.
Thomas Paine Plaza was the site of a 2016 demonstration against President-elect Donald Trump. Photo credit Mark Makela/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After Thomas Paine Plaza, on the east side of the Municipal Services Building, is renovated over the next year, it should be a greener, more welcoming space — but to get there, it will lose its most celebrated feature: the giant board game pieces of the public artwork “Your Move.” As workers wrap up their removal, one of the artists behind the giant game pieces looks back on their origin — and suggests some alternatives to simply disposing of them.


Renee Petropoulos recalls walking the city with two fellow artists in 1993. They’d been hired to provide pieces of public art for the large empty plaza, and they were looking for inspiration.

There was the street grid, with straight and diagonal lines, and the city’s own history and its importance in the founding of the country.

“And then,” Petropoulos said, “the discovery that Monopoly was invented there, one of the quintessential American games, the acquisition of property, buying and selling, and the result being a winner.”

Thus, the idea to create giant game pieces was born — and carefully expanded (no kings or queens among the chess pieces, please).

Petropoulos says, when checkers came to mind, “we thought: ‘Let’s make them performance stages. Let’s put them in the middle,’ and then everything would be scattered around them to allow for seating.”

So the flat, round checkers were outfitted with electricity to serve as stages. But Petropoulos says, while the game pieces may look scattered, their arrangement was anything but random.

As the artists planned the work, she says, they noticed that people tended to walk across the Plaza diagonally, without ever pausing.

“We came to think about interrupting that diagonal. What would make people stop? What would maybe slow them down?” she said.

The city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy says upkeep of the sculptures has been expensive, so it decided to deaccession them and gave the artists two choices: Come and get them, or let the city dispose of them. Petropoulos says the artists chose the latter.

She says public art carries the risk of not being permanent, and she’s sad that it’s being removed. She said she wishes there were other options so certain pieces could live on.

“Those who experienced it one way can come across it another way, and it’s a way that history can be extended, preserved and reframed,” she said.

For example, she’d like to see the Monopoly pieces installed at other sites, as if the board had been upended, scattering the pieces around the city.

And she says there’s a skate park that wants to buy some of them.

“They informed me that the sculpture is one of the iconic skateboard locations in the world,” she said.


But Marguerite Anglin, public art director of the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, says the city has no intention to sell the pieces, because they were site specific and they are in poor condition.

“As the stewards of the City’s public art collection, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy commissions and maintains the City’s public art to enhance the quality of life for Philadelphians and visitors. It is rare that the City deaccessions public art from its collection, let alone sells pieces of the collection.”

However, she said, if the artists — who are in California — want to retrieve the sculptures at their own expense and find private property on which to relocate them, they can do what they want with them.

“If one of the original artists has changed their mind and obtains consensus from the other original artists, they can still retrieve the artwork at their own cost, as was offered by the City initially. Upon transfer of ownership, the artists can determine the future of ‘Your Move,’ including private sale or relocating the pieces on private property,” Anglin said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio