Tuesday, November 30, 2010

"Profile: Important pieces of art lost at the World Trade Center," by Bob Edwards,

October 16, 2001, NPR Morning Edition, "Profile: Important pieces of art lost at the World Trade Center," by Bob Edwards,

Host: BOB EDWARDS Time: 11:00 AM-12:00 Noon


Compared to the human lives that were lost in last month's terrorist attacks, the loss of art and historical items seems insignificant, but the attacks on the World Trade Center may have destroyed works by some of the world's most famous artists. Among them are sculptor Louis Nevelson's Sky Gate New York, a wood relief inspired by an airborne view of the Manhattan skyline, two black granite pyramids by Japanese sculptor Masayuki Nagare that once sat on the Trade Center Plaza appeared destroyed, and so is a collection of historical artifacts. John Kalish reports from New York.

JOHN KALISH reporting:

Just as firemen and cleanup crews are combing through the rubble of the World Trade Center, so too is Saul Wenegart, who was responsible for placing most of the major works of art in public spaces there. Wenegart had an office in the World Trade Center for close to 25 years, but is now retired. He's been going down to the horrific site frequently looking for the missing art. So far, he's been able to identify a bronze sphere by the German sculptor Fritz Koenig which he thinks can be repaired.

Mr. SOL WENEGART: We're hopeful to find, under the debris, other artworks which may still be there.

KALISH: The faith of Alexander Calder's 25-foot-tall red steal abstract sculpture Three Wings is uncertain. Also missing is a stainless steal cubist sculpture by James Rosati.

Mr. WENEGART: I'm hopeful that we may find the Calder. I'm hopeful that we will find the Rosati. We may not find them in their entirety, but I'm hopeful that we'll find them in some form or another.

KALISH: One of the artworks Wenegart doesn't expect to find is a tapestry made by the late Spanish surrealist Joan Miro. The large colorful abstract piece of wool and hemp was three-dimensional, and Miro described it as his ultimate tapestry work. It was displayed in Tower Two's mezzanine.

Mr. WENEGART: That was where one came to go up to the observation deck, also where one came to buy half-price tickets to Broadway shows. It was right in front of you as you came in. It was a very significant location, and literally millions of people passed by it and viewed it.

KALISH: Millions of visitors to the World Trade Center have also seen the memorial created for the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Sculptor Elyn Zimmerman describes her piece, which included the name of the victims of the 1993 bombing inscribed on a circular wall.

Ms. ELYN ZIMMERMAN (Sculpture): Looking at it from above you, you would see a set of concentric circles. It was the fountain right in the center and the inscription ring right around the fountain and then the pool around the inscription ring, and it was all enclosed by a 30-inch-tall wall of granite block. Personally, I'm sorry that it's gone, but in the overall scheme of things, this is a very small personal loss. But I was thinking about it, and I'm really also very sorry for the families of the people that were killed in 1993, because they had a certain relationship to this memorial. It really meant a lot to them. They were very involved in its coming into being, and now they've had a double loss, you know, having lost first their family members and now having lost the memorial.

KALISH: There was an enormous amount of art in the World Trade Center that the general public didn't see. The brokerage firm Cantor Fitzgerald had a gallery known as the Museum in the Sky which had a number of casts from original sculptures by Auguste Rodin, as well as contemporary and 19th century artworks. Cantor Fitzgerald lost several hundred employees in the World Trade Center tragedy, and understandably declined to comment about its art losses at this time.

Fourteen artists had studios in the World Trade Center. One of them was 38-year-old sculptor Michael Richards, who perished in the attack. For the last eight years or so, Richards was working on a series of sculptures about the Tuskegee airmen, the African-American pilots in World War II. Independent curator Franklin Sirmans describes one sculpture in the series.

Mr. FRANKLIN SIRMANS (Independent Curator): It is a standing figurative sculpture created in bronze of a cast of the artist's body in that mode of an erect sort of sculpture that looks with honor, with pride out at the viewer. And the sculpture of the artist is being torpedoed by model airplanes, which I think are representative of the Tuskegee airmen, but they're also representative of some sort of martyrdom.

KALISH: The last time Sirmans saw sculptor Michael Richards was a couple of weeks before the World Trade Center attack at an opening in Manhattan.

Mr. SIRMANS: He was, like, running back downtown from the opening to go back to his studio, you know? He liked to be in his studio and making work.

KALISH: Also working in the World Trade Center were archaeologists documenting the African burial ground in Lower Manhattan. No one from the burial ground project was killed. For 10 years, scientists and scholars studied materials associated with the burial ground that held the remains of thousands of freed and enslaved Africans from the 1700s. None of these remains were in the World Trade Center at the time of the attacks. Lab director Jean Housen(ph) says slides, photographs and public education materials that were lost can be replaced, but losing the soil from the grave shafts and other artifacts is tragic.

Ms. JEAN HOUSEN (Lab Director): Archaeological collections are by definition irreplaceable. And, unfortunately, we didn't have the time or the contract in place to finish the task of analyzing them. So it's tragic in that sense that that's never going to be looked at now by scientists. It would have provided a lot of, I think, very important historical information.

KALISH: As the cleanup at the World Trade Center continues, Housen says she and her colleagues will be waiting to learn the extent of the damage to her lab and the thousands of photographs and documents she hopes won't have to be replaced. For NPR News, I'm John Kalish in New York.


EDWARDS: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Bob Edwards.

BOB EDWARDS. "Profile: Important pieces of art lost at the World Trade Center." NPR Morning Edition. 2001. HighBeam Research. (October 3, 2010). http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1P1-47550195.html

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