Category:world trade center memorial

tape portrait of FDNY B.C. Dennis Devlin
23rd St, north side, between Park & Lex

Wow. Before he became known as Apartment In The Mall Guy, artist Michael Townsend was Tape Art Guy. Over the course of five years, beginning soon after the attack on the World Trade Center, Townsend and his friends created 490 life-sized silhouette portraits of people killed on Sept. 11th using painter's tape.

Sometimes working with permission, but mostly without, the Tape Art crew installed the portraits across Manhattan in locations that, when viewed on Google Earth, create the outlines of several overlapping hearts emanating from the WTC site. In an article last year for the 5th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the Providence Journal called the project, "the world’s first stealth-memorial."

The are a few execution problems with the project: the heart shapes are a bit too Hallmark-y, and the decision to create portraits only of certain categories of the dead-- airplane passengers, police and fire workers--feels like a missed opportunity to universalize the memorial.

One of the most powerful, visceral memorial ideas I ever heard was to place bronze plaques in the form of the "missing" flyers that blanketed the city's lamp posts and mailboxes and the walls around the 26th St Armory, which served as an early rescue center in the days after the attack. Townsend's ephemeral, handmade tape portraits dispersed throughout the city get close to the shared sense of loss, and it stands in diametric opposition to the isolated, concentrated, formalized notion of memorializing the dead at a central site.

I wonder how many of these are still around and how long they'll stay?

Tape Art: The Eleventh of September []
The Art of Remembrance []


As part of Rotterdam 2007 - City of Architecture, the city commemorated the 15-minute-long German bombing on May 14, 1940 that destroyed the city center, precipitated the Dutch surrender in WWII--and ultimately provided the occasion for all that new architecture. The area destroyed by the bombs and the ensuing firestorm is demarcated by the Brandgrens, or Fire Limits:

The Fire Limits

On Monday 14 May, in the evening, Rotterdam 2007 City of Architecture will illuminate the fire limits of Rotterdam’s city centre with over one hundred light beams.

The fire limits mark the areas of the city that were destroyed by the bombing on 14 May 1940 and the ensuing fires that broke out. From 10.45 pm a blaze of light beams on these boundaries will light up the skies, making the true impact of this devastating event visible throughout the entire city.

The bombing ‘only’ lasted fifteen minutes but managed to destroy practically all of Rotterdam’s city centre. Even before the war ended, it was decided not to replicate pre-war Rotterdam when reconstruction began, but to turn the city into a modern, revitalised city. The fire limits highlight the differences between the old and the new in many places in the city centre, which although visible, have never been experienced as a whole before. On 14 May 2007, the art producer Mothership will illuminate the entire fire limits, stretching almost 12 kilometres, turning this historic event into a sight that everyone can see.

Such a prominent spatial use of spotlights as a memorial these days obviously evokes references to the Towers of Light memorial. Like the World Trade Center version, this project, produced by the art collective Mothership, is intended as a temporary, ephemeral precursor to a permanent memorial demarcating the Brandgrens. But that's actually not the most interesting part of this project for me.


Though the memorial's official path through the city was only recognized in February, the idea of the Brandgrens has been as integral to the post-war identity of Rotterdam. The Fire Limits [or as Mothership translates with a bit more thesaurian flair, Bombardment Periphery; Babelfish translates Brandgrens as "Fire Boundaries"] is a commemoration of a Nazi attack that uses the Nazis' own vocabulary of spectacle, specifically Albert Speer's 1934 Lichtdom, the Cathedral of Light, at Nuremburg. The rendering [above] reads almost like a direct quote of Lichtdom, in fact.


As it turned out, Bombardment Periphery looked uncannily like a re-creation of a nighttime bombing, with evocations of anti-aircraft searchlights, groundlevel glow, and illuminated cloud cover. I'd be very interested to hear what the reaction was to this event [the commemorating, that is, not the attack.]


It's a bit absurd, but the first image that comes up in my search for night-time air raid photos was from Los Angeles.


In the early morning of February 25, 1942, unidentified flying objects were spotted over Los Angeles, triggering a massive anti-aircraft barrage that killed three civilians [three more died of heart attacks] and sparked a flood of bitter criticism and controversy. No definitive explanation has ever been made of the objects. The incident was inspiration for Steven Spielberg's comedy [sic], 1941.

The caption for this photo, which ran on the front page of the LA Times, is incredible:

Scores of searchlights built a wigwam of light beams over Los Angeles early yesterday morning during the alarm. This picture was taken during blackout; shows nine beams converging on an object in sky in Culver City area. The blobs of light which show at apex of beam angles were made by anti-aircraft shells.
The obvious question, of course: Is next February 25th too soon for someone to recreate a wigwam of light beams over Culver City?

Bombardment Periphery Gallery []
Rotterdam2007: The Fire Limits []
West Coast Air Raid [wikipedia]

May 8, 2007

So September 10th

I have no idea what to make of this. Dresden painter Eberhard Havekost's Kontakt is coming up for auction at Phillips de Pury on May 17th. Its oblique, cropped composition depicts the flat, linear patterns of the facades of the Vista Hotel and the North Tower of the World Trade Center, and a wind-flipped American flag.

Here is Phillips' catalogue text for the painting, which is expected to sell for between $80-120,000 [1]:
Vertiginous and fiercely cropped, Eberhard Havekost’s Kontakt reads as taut with the freight of its symbolism, the allotted canvas actually failing to contain the plus-sized reality of its subjects. Although executed prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, it is unlikely that contemporary viewers will escape a connection—thematically as well as visually—to the journalistic and sentimental imagery that flooded the United States after those events. The buildings are rendered as flat, surface without depth, with the only indication of shadow in the image serving to slightly dim the stars and backward curl of the flag, arguably drawing more attention to them than the flag itself, boldly outlined in black. This decision on Havekost’s part seems particularly prescient, as it is a simplified graphic image of the ‘stars and bars’ at attention before a towering skyscraper—while pruned entirely of context for anyone not familiar with 9/11’s events—that has arrived as a new unassailable image in the national mindset, much like Joseph Rosenthal’s 1947 photograph at Iwo Jima, which would serve as the model for Felix W. de Weldon’s Marine Corps Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Obviously, the destruction of The World Trade Center is going to factor into any encounter with a work of art which features the buildings. As the text notes, Havekost made this painting long before the September 11th attacks, in 1998. Whatever his idea or intent was for making Kontakt, though, the context around the painting has shifted dramatically.

But rather than just make mention of the situation, Phillips is explicitly running with it, pumping up the importance of Havekost's painting by torquing it into a kind of prophetic artifact. Even more disturbing, they're marketing, not the painting, but the personal experience of weighty remembrance that comes from seeing it: it isn't "symbolic"; instead, it "reads as taut with the freight of its symbolism." It's unassailable image in the national mindset."

The Iwo Jima photo-turned-memorial comparison is another extraordinarily explicit claim to historic, iconic status that is belied by the painting's origins. Rosenthal's staged photo was immediately seized upon as a homefront propaganda tool to invigorate the war-weary country. If anything, its transformation into three dimensions is a memorial to the lingering echoes of the media's own rallying cry.


If a comparable image exists from the WTC, it's surely of New York City firefighters rigging a flag comandeered from a nearby yacht, a cloying attempt by the media to regain their once-galvanizing reach by re-staging--lamely and literally--Rosenthal's photo. But whatever, the icon is definitely not Havekost's depiction of a pop-flat, human-free vacuum. Not that that stops Phillips from trying to sell it as an icon.

Kontakt's current owner, Charles Saatchi, is not known for his reticence, but compared to the auction house's ambitious historical reading, Saatchi's is pretty subdued:

Predating 9/11, Kontakt contains an almost ominous forbearance, emblematic of an unblemished innocence.
This isn't the first time Kontakt has come up for sale. It failed to reach the $20-30,000 estimate at Christie's in 2003. Whether Saatchi bought that innocence at a private discount after the auction, or whether he was left holding onto the work for a few more years, I don't know.

So which is it, unblemished innocence, unassailable sentimentality, or taut surface? Until I tracked down a review by David Ebony of Havekost's first US show, in 1998 at Anton Kern, I thought I had an idea. Kontakt wasn't included in the show, but similar architectural paintings were:

The people and places that Havekost depicts are bathed in a harsh, artificial light that adds to the work's sense of unease and often implies a scenario of intrigue, terror and murder.

While the images are dazzlingly clear, there is a consistent distortion in the cropping and brush work that conveys a feeling of loss -- a loss of the lost moment or, perhaps, lost hope...Havekost proffers an expression of modernist existential angst that is perhaps more gut-wrenching that anything found in the films or videos upon which his paintings are based.

The answer then, was 'none of the above.' And yet if the 1998 reading is accurate, Havekost's painting is actually more prescient and symbolic than ever: it showed a superficiality-obsessed culture, vulnerable and oblivious to the target on its back. Which, on a morning where the headlines were of Lizzy Grubman, Chandra Levy, and getting into Marc Jacobs' afterparty, sounds about right.

[1] It sold for $90,000, $75,000 final bid, which means only one or two bidders.

Philip Kennicott took the occasion of a blown off question about memorials at a public lecture for an excellent takedown of Maya Lin.

She's been intimately involved in memorials for the two most politically divisive and controversial wars in 140 years, and yet she uses art and architecture as an apolitical scrim to hide behind when it suits her.

[Kennicott doesn't address much of what I believe is Lin's underexamined culpability for the design failures of the WTC site memorial. It's a affirmative role defined by her presence and performance on the WTC Memorial Jury, and it's separate from the stifling Minimalist hegemony her Vietnam Memorial design has had on the field for 25 years. Which isn't her fault, anyway, and which is due to memorial designs since VNM being unable to equal its success.]

I can't begin to imagine what it's like trying to create art constantly under the critical shadow of a project you did as an undergrad, and Lin has and continues to be an inspiration to me. But I do know that it's dishonest and delusional to try to maintain a public role that's derived from an early, wildly important achievement, only to then claim you're just a mere designer of garden ornaments. You can't have it both ways, and the sooner Lin can reconcile those things within herself and her work, the better off we'll all be. Either because the public sphere won't be inflicted with her arrogance, or because she'll once again be making an honest and tremendous contribution to our culture.

Why Has Maya Lin Retreated From the Battlefield of Ideas? [wapo via archinect]
Previous Maya Lin posts on

October 4, 2006

Alberto Burri's Cretto


Like Pompeii in reverse, Gibellina has been remembered by its ghost-like burial instead of an unearthing.

In 1968, an earthquake devastated villages throughout the Belice Valley of western Sicily. The Italian government's incompetent response to the disaster and the corruption that absorbed rescue & redevelopment funds turned "Belice" into a cautionary touchstone of Italian politics. It's a scenario that might resonate today, even. In the United States. And/or in Iraq.

Anyway, in the mid-80's, artist Alberto Burri proposed a memorial to victims of the earthquake. His plan: encase the ruins and detritus of the abandoned hill town of Gibellina in concrete, leaving the roads as a solid, labyrinthine palimpsest of the village's public spaces. [The whole town had been rebuilt and relocated closer to the freeway soon after the earthquake. No preserve-or-rebuild debates there.]


The remarkable thing: the memorial was built. Cretto is now a 20+ acre piece of mesmerizing land art, the pathways of an entire town petrified in brutalist, post-minimalist concrete. Now, of course, in 2006, it looks like Peter Eisenman's Berlin Holocaust Memorial, but with content. The other thing it reminds me of is an old NYT Magazine article [date? who knows?] about the challenge of designing effective warning signs for a Nevada nuclear waste dump. To get the "Keep Out" message across 10,000 years from now, someone suggested paving a giant desert quadrant with spiky black stone, which the heat alone would render nearly impassable. Haven't heard much about that since.

Other things I haven't heard: anyone--even the memorial experts--discuss Burri's work in relation to the World Trade Center site, or even in the larger contexts of the evolution of memorial design, much less of Land Art. What gives?

Aleksandra Mir mentioned Cretto in her top ten list for this month's Artforum [artforum]
Cretto [archidose talked about it, though. twice.]

09/2010 UPDATE Google Maps now has higher res images, and Street View. of BF Sicily.

When I grow up--scratch that, IF I were to ever grow up enough, I wish I could write with half the force of Ada Louise Huxtable.

Given the notoriety of the site, a passionately observant and deeply involved public, and the proven financial advantage of what goes by the dreadful name "starchitecture," Mr. Silverstein's move from standard commercial construction to high-end high style required no great sacrifice or philanthropic awakening. Good design makes excess palatable. Marquee names command higher rents. These are all virtuoso performances--architecture as spectacular window dressing and shrewd marketing tool for the grossly maximized commercial square footage that has remained the one constant through the perversion and destruction of Daniel Libeskind's master plan, a process in which vision succumbed early to pressure groups and political agendas. Call it irony or destiny, the architecture once rejected as a costly "frill" is now embraced for its dollar value.
The Disaster That Has Followed The Tragedy [wsj via archinect]

Gawker Media: always pushing the envelope of integration of content and advertising. "Does it smell like smoked mozzarella out here, or is it just me?" [gawker]


Or in Larry Silverstein's case, Fumihiko Maki. [ap/yahoo via gawker]

At Adam Greenfield of and elsewhere will be giving a talk I'd go to just for the title alone, even if it weren't about rethinking the superheroes of 20th century urbanism: "Killing The Fathers, or: If You See Jane Jacobs On The Road..."

We need to come to terms, in other words, with the fact that fetishizing Jane Jacobs' long-lost Hudson Street gives us, ack, Celebration; that the Situationists' collapse of public/private and work/leisure into "unitary urbanism" mostly turns out to mean having to listen to some clueless bozo yawping into his mobile in the Starbucks; that Archigram's headlong embrace of the disposable ethic looks ever more embarrassing in an era when resource wars loom as the most likely endstate of all our most cherished plans.
I've been on something of a Situationist/Constant's New Babylonian binge for a couple of weeks, and with the ideas I had for the WTC Site Memorial still gnawing on some remote part of my brain, I will probably be the future-old-kook with a sheaf of crumpled schematics stuffed into my satchel on the front row, waiting to ask him woefully underpunctuated questions.

Conflux lectures, 9.17.06 []
Reversals, inversions, anticipations, returns []

Previously: my WTC memorial proposal, part 1, part 2, nov 2003; my angsting over it, mar 2005. I posted my embarassingly designed poster/entry on flickr [I used powerpoint; it's all I had at that moment.]

June 22, 2006

Same As It Ever Was


Interesting. The Gutter does a quick handicap of the "winners" and "losers" in the new Frank Sciame-redesign of the WTC Memorial.

There's one overlooked/surprise winner: Santiago Calatrava, who, the gutter points out, got the Snohetta Freedom Center-turned-Information Center removed from the northeast corner of the Memorial Quadrant, where it had previously interfered with his own soaring crown roast of a train station. [Of course, that must've been a pretty short meeting, since Sciame is also working for Calatrava.]

The "winner" to no one's surprise at all, though, is the Port Authority. Another feature I haven't seen discussed is in the drawing above: something labeled "Memorial Plaza." That just happens to be the title of one of the six original rebuilding concepts the Port Authority commissioned from Beyer Blinder Belle way back in July 2002. It was the outcry against those six concepts, titled "Memorial [choose one: Plaza, Square, Triangle, Garden, Park, Promenade]." The original concepts and program can be seen here. Memorial Plaza is below. Look familiar?


Ouroussoff today lamented the lack of progress and vision in the WTC site rebuilding and in the Memorial design process both. But maybe we've been looking at this wrong from the start. If you're Port Authority, this whole thing looks to be moving along exactly as planned.

WTC Memorial 2.0: And the Winner Is... [gutter]
"Today the LMDC released its six concepts..." [, 7/16/02]
Six Plans for WTC Site Unveiled (7/16/02) []

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Since 2001 here at, I've been blogging about the creative process—my own and those of people who interest me. That mostly involves filmmaking, art, writing, research, and the making thereof.

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