"What have artists wrought from 9/11?"
September 3, 2004
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Author: Maria Puente
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What have artists wrought from 9/11?
A look at all sorts of 9-11 inspired art, from solemn to quirky:
The artwork that has received the most acclaim is the most ephemeral: Tribute in Light, two massive beacons of light at Ground Zero, restore the Manhattan skyline with ghostly replicas of the fallen twin towers. Conceived by a group of New York artists, the phantom towers resonated with many, perhaps because they were temporary. Plus, they are sophisticated without being abstruse, elegiac without being morbid. (Related story: Definitive art of Sept. 11 is yet to emerge)
"There's something beautiful about its ephemerality Ð it adds a spiritual dimension," says Terence Riley of MoMA.
Much Sept. 11 art is explicitly memorial. Scores of communities across the USA have commissioned public artworks that use steel recovered from Ground Zero.
In Pennsauken, N.J., sculptor Brian Hanlon was commissioned by town leaders to create a memorial consisting of life-size bronze figures of a police officer, firefighter, emergency medical technician and police dog lending aid to a survivor at Ground Zero, in front of a black granite wall reading "We Shall Never Forget." In Brick Township, N.J., he was commissioned by the widows of nine World Trade Center victims to make Angel in Anguish, a life-size bronze sculpture of a winged angel weeping on a headstone. "These victims were never found, they don't have a headstone, so this is their headstone," he says.
Dallas sculptor John Collier's Sept. 11 commission is expressly religious, aimed not at conveying horror or outrage but Christian concepts of resurrection and hope. He created four bronzes of patron saints Ð St. Michael for police, St. Joseph for workers, St. Florian for firefighters, Mary Magdalene for resurrection Ð for St. Peter's Catholic Church in downtown New York, which was damaged on 9/11. They fit in the long tradition of devotional, figurative statuary. "The best religious works are by nature narrative," he says. "It's difficult to tell stories with abstract images, it's hard to get at universal themes."
Public distaste for abstract art is not new, but the desire for literal representations seemed to intensify for Sept. 11-related artworks. Still, some abstract works have gained notice. In Hanover Square near Ground Zero, British expatriates in New York plan to build a memorial garden to honor the 67 British nationals who died on Sept. 11. The centerpiece will be Unity, a large black-granite monolith that will contain a carved-out inner chamber polished to reflect light so that it appears to hold an eternal flame. The piece is by British sculptor Anish Kapoor, an acclaimed artist whose only other work in the USA is Cloud Gate, a monumental abstract sculpture of stainless steel in Chicago's new Millennium Park that has been dubbed the "Jelly Bean."
"We wanted the (British) park to be about renewal and strengthening," says Camilla Hellman, a British New Yorker who conceived the park.
North Carolina sculptor Jim Gallucci has made a 23-foot-high abstract sculpture out of some of the 16 tons of World Trade Center steel beams that he hauled down to his studio in Greensboro soon after Sept. 11. Gallucci would dearly love to donate Gates of Sorrow to New York if only someone would take it. So far, the city isn't interested.
"The gate is a symbol of the end of our innocence, the day when the door opened to what the world is about, when we learned how vulnerable we are," says Gallucci.
Eric Fischl's bronze, Tumbling Woman, depicts a larger-than-life naked woman falling, with arms and legs flailing. When it went on display at Rockefeller Center a year after the attacks, it freaked out some people who were reminded of the victims who jumped or fell from the doomed towers. Just days later, it was taken away.
"It was a way of putting into form the feelings I had about that terrible event, but also it spoke to that disequilibrium that we all shared," says Fischl, who lost a friend in the towers. But "maybe we should have waited a little longer."
Still, an edition of five was made and sold to collectors.
Soon after Sept. 11, a young New York artist named David Greg Harth began stamping dollar bills with the words I AM NOT TERRORIZED and I AM NOT AFRAID. He estimates that he and others around the world have stamped nearly 1 million bills so far.
"The terrorists struck the financial capital of the world Ð I choose money as my medium to attack back," says Harth, whose studio was a few blocks from the World Trade Center.
Cleveland artist Bob Novak made a 10-foot electric guitar to honor firefighters killed on Sept. 11. The piece, titled All Gave Some, Some Gave All, depicts firefighters raising the flag over Ground Zero, merged with the image of the flag-raising over Iwo Jima. The back lists the nearly 3,000 victims who died in the attacks. The sculpture, now on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, was commissioned by an insurance company, which plans to auction it for charity in November.
Some art is just this side of kitsch, like the 98-foot-high nickel-and-bronze teardrop that Moscow artist Zurab Tsereteli wants to install on the Jersey City waterfront across from the World Trade Center site. Tsereteli, who calls the piece The Struggle Against World Terrorism,is best known for putting up gigantic statues in Russia, such as a 307-foot-high Peter the Great that opponents once threatened to blow up.
Tsereteli talked the Jersey City mayor into accepting the piece Ð but then the mayor died. Now a final decision on the sculpture has been delayed, opponents are organizing, and Tsereteli is trying to rally support by running full-page ads in local newspapers.
The piece is a 175-ton bronze monolith with a nickel teardrop suspended within and water running down its face. "People thought it was ugly, insensitive and had sexual overtones," says documentary photographer Leon Yost, who lives near the waterfront. "When you compare it to the 'towers of light,' it makes people here want to throw up."
Tsereteli's New York lawyer, Emily Madoff, dismisses the opposition as small but loud. "But for the mayor dying, this could have been up and ready by the 2004 anniversary."
But there's no way that's going to happen by then, and maybe not by next year either, says Roger Jones, chief of staff to the acting mayor. "It's not a slam-dunk project."
Xu Bing, a Chinese-born artist living in New York, won a $75,000 European arts prize this year for his installation, Dust, in which he used actual dust from Ground Zero, spread it on the floor of a gallery and traced in it the Chinese characters of a line from a nameless poem: "Where does the dust collect itself?"
"Dust is a very Zen idea," the artist told The New York Times.
Copyright 2004 USA TODAY