From death and displacement to questioning the role of artists and museums in the face of devastation to the loss of $100 million worth of art—the repercussions continue.
The September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took the life of Michael Richards, 38, a sculptor and installation artist. Richards was working in a studio on the 92nd floor of the north tower when the hijacked airplane hit the building at about 8:45 A.M.
|TOP Wolfgang Staehle’s live-feed video projection of Lower Manhattan, To the People of New York, was part of a show titled “2001” when it was installed in Chelsea’s Postmasters gallery in early September. BOTTOM After the World Trade Center attacks, the projection remained in operation—with a new name, Untitled.|
|Courtesy Postmasters Gallery, New York (2)|
On that airplane were 81 passengers, among them Berry Berenson Perkins, 53, a photographer, socialite, and widow of actor Anthony Perkins whose photographs had appeared in fashion magazines such as Vogue and Glamour. Her grandmother was the French fashion innovator Elsa Schiaparelli, and she was, on her father’s side, distantly related to the renowned art critic and collector Bernard Berenson.
Richards and Perkins were among the thousands of people who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. The week started out as an important one for the art world, heralding the beginning of a new season in an uncertain economy, but by midmorning on September 11, everything had changed. Opening parties were canceled; exhibitions, auctions, and art fairs were postponed.
“It’s been very quiet,” said one photography dealer in Chelsea, three days after the attack. “No one’s buying art, and if they were, I’d tell them to go do something else. Go give blood. Go help.” By Monday, September 17, the city—and those people and businesses that make up the New York art world—had been urged back to work for the betterment of the nation and the economy. From death and displacement to the loss of tens of millions of dollars’ worth of art to questioning the role of artists and museums in the face of the devastation, the aftershocks came one after the other. They come still.
“Nobody is confident these days about decisions,” says Volker Diehl, a Berlin dealer and managing director of Art Forum Berlin, who decided to go ahead with the contemporary fair as scheduled in October. “We are working from one hour to another.”
A Local Perspective
The World Trade Center was known primarily as an international symbol of commerce, but the buildings also provided studio space for more than a dozen artists—Richards among them—in the residency program of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
The September 11 attacks displaced a cross section of local arts organizations, public-art projects, and studio buildings in Lower Manhattan, but the cultural council was hit hardest. The arts organization was founded 30 years ago by David Rockefeller and Chase Bank, as part of the redevelopment of Lower Manhattan, which included the construction of the World Trade Center. With an annual budget of $3 million, the council was a bridge between local arts projects and the business community. Sponsors of its performance series and public-art projects included leading financial institutions, as well as the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the owner of the World Trade Center, which had provided the council with its offices at 5 World Trade Center.
“We had become an odd part of the Port Authority family,” says Liz Thompson, the council’s executive director since 1988, who escaped unharmed from the lobby of the north tower, where she had been discussing an art installation for the balcony when the building was hit. “They did not particularly understand artists and we didn’t understand them, but we came together. It is prototypical of what we would like the world to be.”
All 15 of the council’s employees were able to evacuate 5 World Trade Center before it collapsed in the aftermath of the attacks, but the organization’s equipment, files, artwork, and archives were lost. Also escaping unharmed was the staff of Thundergulch, the new-media arts initiative of the council, with which it shared office space. “My personal media library and all the programs we built from the ground up were destroyed,” says Kathy Brew, executive director of Thundergulch, which, among other things, lent technical support to council artists working in new media.
The council had two studio programs in the north tower: Studioscape provided painters with studios on the 91st floor, and World Views granted studio space on the 92nd floor to an international group of emerging artists working in various media.
Richards, who was born in New York and raised in Kingston, Jamaica, was a resident in the World Views program and had been an artist-in-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem, in 1995 and 1996, and at Socrates Sculpture Park in 1997. In recent years his bronze sculptures often employed the imagery of plane crashes and heroism in World War II. His most recent work was a full-scale bronze self-portrait pierced by miniature airplanes, meteors, and flames.
In addition to dealing with the shock of Richards’s death, many of the program’s artists lost their personal records and archives, as well as their materials, in the attack. All of the work produced in the program referred to the site, and much of it, like Richards’s most recent work, has now taken on an eerie tone. Next month the New Museum of Contemporary Art will show (through January 13) artworks by World Views residents, including Monika Bravo, who was working on a time-lapse video, recording passing clouds outside the tower’s windows. Her last day of footage, recorded on September 10, catches a glimpse of office workers in the south tower as thunder clouds gather and lightning strikes in the distance.
Two former residents of World Views, Julian LaVerdiere and Paul Myoda, had been working with the cultural council and Creative Time on Bioluminescent Beacon, a project that would have created a beam of light at the top of the World Trade Center using a globe of single-cell plankton as its light source. The day after the terrorist attacks, the artists proposed Towers of Light, a temporary memorial using floodlights to project two ghostly beacons of light to fill the void in the New York skyline.
The attacks on the World Trade Center also destroyed the offices of more than 400 companies that contained tens of millions of dollars’ worth of art. Dietrich von Frank, president and chief executive officer of AXA Nordstern Art Insurance, has predicted art losses from the terrorist attacks of more than $100 million, based on his knowledge of the collections in the buildings.
“We’re talking about artworks with a single value exceeding a million dollars and other works that are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars,” says von Frank. He anticipates that AXA will pay out approximately $20 million in art claims to three clients in the twin towers whom he would not identify. “We have reason to believe that there were other collections in the buildings, not insured by us, that are valued much higher.”
One of AXA’s clients is Cantor Fitzgerald, a top bond brokerage firm on Wall Street that had offices in the north tower and lost a major art collection. A spokesperson for Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost more than 600 employees in the collapse of the towers, said the company was “not yet in a position to comment on the collection
. It’s down the list of priorities being worked on right now.”
The company’s founder, the late B. Gerald Cantor, was the world’s largest private collector of Rodin sculpture, having acquired more than 750 works by the artist. Cantor and his wife, Iris, donated more than 450 works to museums and universities. In 1981 Cantor opened a 4,000-square-foot gallery in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices on the 105th floor of the tower, where he kept 100 sculptures and drawings.
Cantor later decided to close the corporate gallery because its popularity with the public made it difficult to conduct business. In 1996, after Cantor’s death, all of the Rodins owned by Iris Cantor and the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Foundation in Beverly Hills were removed, leaving four Rodin works in the Cantor Fitzgerald offices, says a knowledgeable source. It is not clear what art objects may have been added to the corporate collection in the past five years, according to informed sources.
Other collections lost in the destruction of the World Trade Center include more than 45 photo-based works owned by Fred Alger Management, an investment firm on the 93rd floor of the north tower. Artist and curator Leslie Alexander, who is married to New York dealer Lawrence Luhring, watched the assault on the Manhattan skyline from the promenade in Brooklyn Heights. “I was counting the floors, getting hysterical,” says Alexander, who had been the curator of the company’s collection since 1985. “I literally took one step to go pick up my son from school, and the first tower collapsed. It was total horror.”
The Fred Alger corporate collection included works by such artists as Cindy Sherman, John Baldessari, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Bernd and Hilla Becher. The company lost all 35 employees in the office, including Fred Alger’s brother, David. “The art, as fantastic as it was, does not compare to the loss of life, even though it makes you sick to think it’s gone,” says Alexander. “To me it represents a terrible loss of intellect.”
Bank of America, which lost three employees who worked in its north-tower offices, had more than 100 contemporary works on paper in the building. “Our focus, of course, is on loss of life, and that’s what really matters,” says art program director Becky Hannum, speaking from the bank’s headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. “We do plan to tally the amount of loss to our collection. However, we don’t have that yet.”
AXA’s von Frank says it is impossible to know at this point how many works were destroyed. An accurate number may never be determined because of the extent of the damages, the number of insurance companies involved, as well as the allowances and limitations of some policies. For example, a policy covering unnamed locations allows companies to move artworks to and from office buildings without informing their insurance carrier, making it difficult to know what might have been in the World Trade Center at the time of the attack. In addition, the dollar amount paid out by insurance carriers to companies may be much lower than the actual value of the art collections, because some firms, never anticipating the destruction of their entire collections, may have opted for a loss-limit policy, wherein reimbursement would not exceed a predetermined sum no matter how many objects were destroyed.
At some point, companies that have been consumed with the deaths of employees and associates, as well as the relocation of their offices, will have to compile lists of the artworks that were lost or damaged, a process that could take months, von Frank says. “Right now, we aren’t focused on anything that might have to do with what was lost physically,” says a spokeswoman for the Marsh & McLennan insurance company, which had offices in the north tower. “We’re more focused on what was lost on the humanity side.” The company lost 292 staff members.
“We’re not going to comment on [the loss of art] at this point,” says Jane Stapleton, managing director of the AON Huntington T. Block insurance agency, which had offices in the south tower and lost approximately 180 employees. “It’s way too soon.”
Public artworks, reportedly worth $10 million, which were displayed in and around the World Trade Center, were also destroyed. Among those that were lost: Alexander Calder’s 25-foot-high sculpture Red Stabile (1971); Sky Gate, New York (1978), a painted-wood relief by Louise Nevelson; Joan Miró’s World Trade Center Tapestry (1974); and a painting by Roy Lichtenstein from his “Entablature” series of the 1970s. Lichtenstein’s 30-foot-tall Modern Head, which stands in the shadow of the World Financial Center, was covered in soot and debris but is still intact.
Four historically important paintings hanging in the destroyed section of the Pentagon were lost, says Army art curator Renee Klish. Eleven other works may also have been destroyed, Klish says, but she declined to provide further details. “We are going to try to work our way into the rooms,” she says. “I want to verify it.”
The art world has struggled to find an appropriate response. Opening parties and galas were canceled and replaced by fund-raisers and donations. The Japan Society canceled an opening-night gala and donated funds designated for the event to the United Way September 11 fund. More than 100 New York galleries, among them David Zwirner, Paula Cooper, Howard Greenberg, and PaceWildenstein, were planning to participate in “I ♥ New York—Art Benefit,” a weeklong exhibition and sale of works (through November 3), many donated by emerging and well-known artists, with all proceeds going to the families of the World Trade Center victims. Last month, the 25 galleries in the Fuller Building (41 E. 57th Street), including Danese, James Goodman, Barbara Mathes, and Schmidt-Bingham, were planning to present “The Heart of Art,” a night of art exhibitions and a silent auction, with all proceeds going to the New York Police and Fire Widows’ and Children’s Benefit Fund.
Some members of the arts community, such as art critic and journalist Robert Atkins and Thundergulch’s Brew, joined to form “911—The September 11 Project: Cultural Intervention in Civic Society,” which aims to act as a clearinghouse for information, ideas, and responses from the cultural community relating to the terrorist attacks (http://rhizome.org/ 911). “A lot of us are still trying to process all of this,” says Atkins, who has worked extensively with the community activist organization Visual AIDS, “but it’s important that we reclaim public space for individual voices.”
Eleven major New York museums offered free admission after the attacks, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art presented a free concert series and poetry readings (see “A Spirit of Renewal,” page 36). The Atmosphere Gallery in Chelsea held a candlelight vigil with impromptu speeches and prayers. The Santa Fe Art Institute offered artists who were displaced by the terrorism two-to-four-week residencies out west this fall and winter.
Creative Time plans to post and distribute four posters by established and emerging artists throughout the city this month. Among the artists who had submitted proposals at press time were Leon Golub, Nicole Eisenman, Vija Celmins, and Mel Chin. A selection of the images will be available as downloadable banners and screensavers on the Creative Time Web site (www.creativetime.org). In addition, the arts organization will show—on the 59th minute of every hour during the month of November—a video by Bruce and Norman Yonemoto on the NBC Astrovision by Panasonic in Times Square. The work, which was made before September 11, “is a reflection on our history through our relationship with international monuments,” says Creative Time exec
Ann Pasternak. “It ends with an image of an American flag hanging upside down, signaling distress, please help, followed by a view of an open prairie.”
The opening of the Guggenheim Museum’s major exhibition “Brazil: Body and Soul” was delayed by a week last month while the Brazilian government decided whether the centerpiece of the exhibition, a 45-foot-tall, 18th-century Baroque altarpiece, would leave its native Olinda in northeastern Brazil, owing to fears that arose from the terrorist attacks. “After the tragic events, everything and everybody froze,” says the Guggenheim’s Julian Zugazagoitia, a curator and organizer of the exhibition. “There was a bit of a situation. Institutions and collectors asked for time to reflect, which was understandable.” At press time, Brazil had decided that it would send the altar, and most of the lenders to the exhibition had decided not to pull out. “The minister of culture and the government were reassured that it was safe for the altar to travel,” says Zugazagoitia. “Brazil decided to make the point that it backs New York and is willing to send its best jewels when New York needs comfort.”
Museums in Europe also faced shipping complications and heightened security concerns. A major Andy Warhol retrospective at the Berlin Nationalgalerie was postponed for a few days when important works from U.S. collections were unable to arrive in time for the opening. A painting by Frida Kahlo, Self-Portrait with Monkey, on loan from Madonna, failed to make the opening of the Tate Modern exhibition “Surrealism: Desire Unbound,” along with some 20 other works stuck in the United States.
The Louvre in Paris postponed a lecture and film series on Afghanistan, citing security reasons, while Arab Canadian artists expressed “concern and outrage” after the Museum of Civilization, in Hull, Quebec, postponed a show of works by 25 Arab Canadian artists until early next year. The museum retracted its decision after public and political outcry in Canada called for the exhibition to go on as originally scheduled last month.
Sensitivity about subject matter became an issue at the Baltimore Museum of Art, where a painting by Christopher Wool with the word “terrorist,” separated into three lines, was taken down in the days following the attacks. A museum spokeswoman said the work was reinstalled a few days later with additional interpretive text and an area for patrons to comment on the work.
Meanwhile New York’s Marlborough Gallery rescheduled for next spring a show of works by Tom Otterness, known for his bold, playful, subversive sculptures, often of animals. Aside from logistical problems caused by the attacks that made it difficult to set up huge works of art, Michael Gitlitz, a director at Marlborough, said, “It did not seem like an ideal time to be presenting art as bold and humorous as Otterness’s.”
Two exhibitions installed in New York before the attacks struck a poignant note after September 11. Postmasters in Chelsea had opened a show on September 6 by artist Wolfgang Staehle, featuring live-feed video of Lower Manhattan with a view of the World Trade Center. After the terrorist attacks, the installation reflected a drastically changed skyline, and the title of the work was changed from To the People of New York to Untitled.
At the Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery in Chelsea, an exhibition of works by Nancy Davenport—which also opened on September 6—featured manipulated images of New York City apartment buildings presumably under terrorist attack (see New York Reviews, page 173). In both cases, the galleries decided to leave the works in place, while taking pains to note that the exhibits had been installed before the terrorist acts took place.
Images of the World Trade Center, meanwhile, are scheduled in galleries for months to come. An exhibition of pictures of the World Trade Center by Angel Marcos opened at the Alicia Ventura Gallery in Barcelona last month. Dino Pedriali, an Italian artist best known for his black-and-white nude photographs and his expressive portraits of such cultural icons as Andy Warhol and Pier Paolo Pasolini, will show eight Polaroid collages titled Twin Towers in his solo exhibition at Rome’s Il Ponte Contemporanea in January.
This month (November 3–December 15) New York dealer Ariel Meyerowitz is presenting a selection of World Trade Center photographs taken by her father, New York photographer Joel Meyerowitz, an exhibition that was planned over a year ago. Meyerowitz, who had been taking photographs of Lower Manhattan and the World Trade Center from a studio on West 19th Street since 1981, took his last photograph of the twin towers just four days before the collapse of the buildings. “At first it was an esthetic game of sight, watching the sky move over Lower Manhattan,” he says. “But now those towers have become much more meaningful. Those images evoke many of the things that have happened to us.”
Eleven images will be available—in various sizes, with some as large as 4 feet by 5 feet, priced from $3,500 to $12,000 a piece—with a portion of the proceeds going to the New York State World Trade Center Relief Fund. Joel Meyerowitz has been down at ground zero—on top of the rubble, up in a crane, touring the interiors of adjacent buildings—since shortly after the destruction of the towers, to document the heroic cleanup efforts. “It’s so maddeningly powerful,” says Meyerowitz, who will donate the photographs to the Museum of the City of New York’s archives.
“I grew up in New York and watched the World Trade Center being built. The towers brought out a funny amalgam of feelings. If you took a telephoto lens to them they almost looked trite, like a cheese grater. They were too graphic, too big. But if you saw them in their setting, with space around them, rubbing against each other, their edges glinting, a sliver of pink sun between them, they were an extraordinary phenomenon.”
Kelly Devine Thomas, the magazine’s senior writer, last profiled New York gallerists Lucy Mitchell-Innes and David Nash. Additional reporting by Barbara Pollack and Eileen Kinsella in New York, Hugh Eakin in Berlin, Mery Galanternick in Rio de Janeiro, Simon Grant in London, Nicholas Powell in Paris, George Stolz in Madrid, and Jonathan Turner in Rome.