Driving through downtown Philadelphia, we were ready to hop out and snap a photo of the World's Largest Paintbrush, when -- whoa!
Down the plaza alley, sticking 28 feet above the pavement stones, was a crashed and artfully crumpled full-size airplane. Titled "Grumman Greenhouse," it was unveiled in late 2011, the creation of 27-year-old Jordan Griska, who graduated in 2008 from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, which just happens to be in the building that the plane has narrowly missed.
The plane is a U.S. Navy Grumman Tracker S-2E, built in 1962. It flew from aircraft carriers. If the Cold War had turned hot, it would've dropped torpedoes and atomic depth charges onto Commie submarines. Mothballed in the 1980s, it had a second career dumping chemicals onto forest fires in California. Jordan bought it on eBay for about the same price as a cheap used car.
Inspired by origami, Jordan folded the Grumman to look like it had nose-dived into the ground. He then replaced its cockpit innards with a working greenhouse, lit from within by LED grow lights, powered by solar panels on the wings. "The light tells people there's something more going on, inside," said Jordan, who hopes it will attract people who might otherwise run away from a crashed airplane. The magenta color is a serviceable spectrum for plant growth, and Jordan liked it.
Grumman Greenhouse has made its artist a horticulturalist; when we spoke with Jordan, he'd just returned from "watering the airplane." He picks up seedlings from a local nursery, raises them in the airplane for a month, then delivers the herbs, peppers, and kale to City Harvest, which feeds poor families in the region. The following month he does it all over again. "It's been a learning curve to get the temperature, light, and water right," said Jordan. "I'm not gonna let my project not survive." His efforts have paid off; the plants looked happy to us....
Jordan sees his artwork as an eye-grabbing metaphor for recycling and repurposing, and he stresses the contrast between the plane's previous chaotic life and its new one as a nurturing biosphere. Others, however, just see a wrecked airplane, tasteless and insensitive. Jordan, who worked with local Navy pilots and firefighters to build Grumman Greenhouse, accepts the criticism, but feels his artwork is misunderstood. "It's not anti-military, it's not anti-firefighter," he said. "It's about the plants growing in the plane."
Grumman Greenhouse was originally slated for display for just one year -- but the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts has since extended it through September 2013, and possibly longer than that. Good for them. We really like the idea of taking an entire airplane and turning it into a piece of art, a public spectacle, and cozy place to grow plants.
Yup, that's quite a mission change for the old Tracker.