Listening to Lipchitz

 © Assoc for Public Art
Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor. “Government of the People,” 1976. (© Association for Public Art)
Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor. "Spirit of Enterprise," 1961. (
Jacques Lipchitz, sculptor. “The Spirit of Enterprise,” 1960. (

Ask Jacques Lipchitz to share his views on art. His response is curious. “You can’t verbalize art. I think when you start to do that you lose exactly your impact, because art is born from darkness, and if you start to clarify it, it goes away.”

Ask The Master about “freedom of expression” and he takes us down another interesting rabbit hole: “The important thing, you see, is to acquire some kind of a freedom in expression. And if you know something it becomes very difficult. Freedom is not given to us.  We have to conquer it, we have to conquer it by fighting, by working, very hard, and then a little bit more freedom comes every time. You know you are more free… and you have to learn how to be free. You have to let everything what is unknown, because what we know is very little… So these unknown forces you have to let them work for you. And, first of all, you have to be able to catch them. You know that’s the technique you learn. Things are coming, coming, you don’t know what it is, but you have to have a net to catch them. Then you have is see what it is, what you can use. You understand? That’s freedom for an artist. Because he works with things which are absolutely mysterious for him, unknown.  What he knows is very little.”

And when an artist does know something? “Rodin was telling that you have to know anatomy, but when you are working you have to forget about it.  It’s not easy to forget.  If you learn it, it’s with you. But relative freedom can be conquered; that comes only with age.  So as soon as you have freedom, everything changes for you. All your views are changed.”

At the end of his life, Lipchitz created a few monumental artworks. “Government of the People” is one of them, just across from City Hall.

“It was the architect Kling from Philadelphia who came to me and proposed to me this job. You know In Philadelphia I was very well known because the museum had a lot of pieces of mine, the Barnes collection, etc. and so I was somehow…the chosen son…I was the pet sculptor of Philadelphia. And so they came to me and of course I was very happy to do the job, because it’s a very responsible job. Kling built an annex to the municipal building, a modern…with a big plaza and he wanted to have me to make this sculpture for the plaza. It’s a very difficult thing because so many styles of arch are around. You know, the Municipal building of Philadelphia…is very interesting architecture, end of 19th century French architecture, a mixture of all these styles. And beside this you have this church with a steeple. And then you have a kind of a Masonic Temple, which is a mixture of all kinds of styles. It’s very different styles all around…”

Lipchitz died three years before the installation of “Government of the People” in 1976. But his recorded voice, Penny Bach tells us, echoed through the plaza at its dedication. “I believe in the capacities and potentialities of the human being,” proclaimed the sculptor, “and I would like the exalt them in every one of my works.”

Today, that and any of Lipchitz’s many other quips, quotes, anecdotes and advice can be heard, thanks to the internet. But what we’d really like to hear are the sculptor’s words bouncing, once again, off the facades of Center City, when and where they will really mean something. As luck would have it, the opportunity isn’t very far off. In a few months, when the new conservation project to clean and wax the “Government of the People” is complete, why not invite Lipchitz to its re-dedication? He never was at a loss for words worth listening to. And more than forty years after his death, he still isn’t.