Split Button
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ajardini's picture

Sr. Editor

This whimsical sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen is cute as a button!

Or maybe it would be more adorable if it was pink, and not snapped in half down the middle. The larger-than-life object is typical of the duo's public works. They've made the most random things become interesting by making them huge: safety pins, apple cores, ice cream cones, shuttlecocks...(OK, this is true, but we also just wanted to make you say shuttlecock).

This particular 5,000 lb. behemoth alluminum button doesn't have a lot to do with its surroundings, but Claes and Coosje's sculptures rarely do at first glance. It's not in front of a clothing factory, or some international sewing club- it sits outside of the library in Levy park on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Apparently the four holes of the button are meant to echo the design of Philadelphia founder William Penn, who envisioned the city as centering around four symetrically placed parks. And maybe the split is a nod to the crack in the liberty bell? Or perhaps this is a Swedish dig at American icon and Penn founder Benjamin Franklin who was well known for being extraordinarily fat, and probably often split the buttons on his old timey vest.

In any case, the campus has come to love it's ideosyncratic structure.  On any given afternoon you can see kids standing in the holes, co-eds soaking up sun, or any number of campus clubs and teams snapping yearbook pics in front of the beloved button.  The piece was once even shrouded in black as a performative memorial to UPenn students who lost their lives to AIDS. I guess the beauty of picking a totally common object for an oversized sculpture is that folks can have their own unique interpretation...and still be on the button.


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Here is what Wikipedia says about The Button (sculpture)

The Button (officially, Split Button) is a modern art sculpture that lies at the center of campus at the University of Pennsylvania. It was designed by Swedish sculptor Claes Oldenburg, who specializes in creating oversize sculptures of everyday objects.


  • Total cost: $100,000 including transportation and installation ($37,500 from University, $37,500 from the National Endowment for the Arts, and $25,000 in contributions raised by Mrs. H. Gates Lloyd, chair of the Visual Environment Committee that chose the piece.)
  • Weight: 5000 lb (approx. 2,270 kg)
  • Materials: Reinforced aluminum
  • Size: 16 ft (4.89 m) diameter

Check out the full Wikipedia article about The Button (sculpture).