“The task of art is enormous. Art should cause violence to be set aside…The destiny of art in our time is to transmit from the realm of reason to the realm of feeling the truth that well-being for men consists in being united together, and to set up, in place of the existing reign of force, the kingdom of God, i.e. of Love, which we all recognize to be the highest aim of a humble life.” -Leo Tolstoy, What is Art?
“Ten years ago Don DeLillo wrote that the attacks of Sept. 11 would change “the way we think and act, moment to moment, week to week, for unknown weeks and months to come, and steely years.” The historian Taylor Branch spoke of a possible “turning point against a generation of cynicism for all of us,” and Roger Rosenblatt argued in Time magazine that “one good thing could come from this horror: it could spell the end of the age of irony.”
Yet, fourteen years later, it is clear that the attacks of 9/11 haven’t provoked the cultural and artistic change many predicted they would. As curator Peter Eleey remarked in his essay for MoMA’s memorial exhibition: “The attacks of September 11, 2001 were among the most pictured disasters in history, yet they remain, a decade later, underrepresented in cultural discourse—particularly within the realm of contemporary art.”
That doesn’t mean that we should forget what a formidable effect the tragedies of that day had on New York City artists and the world over, and we definitely shouldn’t discount how quickly the artistic community mobilized in service. Immediate projects like The Tribeca Film Festival and countless benefit concerts with performances by big names like Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and the Who, and much later Jonathan Safran Foer’s, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, are relics of one of America’s darkest days. The same day Kakutani’s piece was published, the New York Times also unveiled a project in which they asked eight artists in disciplines ranging from dance to film to talk about how that day and its aftermath have informed their work and lives.
At The Curator we believe that art can speak into and out of the depths of the human experience. We thought an appropriate response for a magazine like ours was to take a brief moment to remember some of the works—limited as they are given the nearness of the events—borne out of this tragedy, to highlight the communities they’ve convened, and most importantly, to evidence their rehumanizing power at work. A few are listed below.
Individual Works of Art
“These are 8×10 polaroids taken between 1998-2001. At the time, my studio was located at 98-100 Greenwich St. The damage was caused by debris and the triggering of the sprinklers. I put them in a box and didn’t open it until 2010.” –Barron Claiborne
“Inscribing the date of 9/11 as “IX XI” in this series of artworks is my way of creating a regal remembrance of the sorrowful events of that day. To give a peaceful, noble, regal tribute is my intention in creating this roman numerical marking of time” –Ultra Violet
The Tribute in Light is an art installation of 88 searchlights placed next to the site of the World Trade Center to create two vertical columns of light in remembrance of the September 11 attacks. Tribute in Light is one of the most powerful and healing works of public art ever produced. Visible within a sixty-mile radius on a clear night, Tribute has become a world-renowned icon of remembrance.
A poem by Eric Fischl that appeared on a plaque near the Tumbling Woman, the first rendition of the sculpture:
disbelieving and helpless,
on that savage day.
People we love
helpless and in disbelief.
According to Fischl, “The experience of 9/11, the trauma and tragedy was amplified by the fact that there were no bodies. You had 3,000 people who died and no bodies, so the mourning process turned to the language of architecture.” That led to a question about how to grieve and how to memorialize. “Do you shoot up lights that look and imitate like ghosts of the building, or do the footprints of the building have to be preserved as sacred ground?” Fischl asked. What makes Tumbling Woman II different from the original, is a matter of scale and a simple gesture of the arm. “I extended her arm in the hopes that someone would grab her arm and help slow the tumbling down.”
Marking the six month anniversary of September 11th, a poster designed by artist Hans Haacke appeared on scaffolding and media walls throughout New York City. The poster itself was blank and white, consisting only of die-cut silhouettes of the World Trade Center towers.
The monument was designed by sculptor Zurab Tsereteli and is seen here during its dedication at The Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor on September 11, 2006. The Tsereteli sculpture is a gift from Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian people.
In commemoration of the tenth anniversary, the ICP collaborated with the National September 11 Memorial Museum on Remembering 9/11, a major exhibition of photography and video that addressed the issues of memory and recovery from disaster, and explored how New Yorkers and volunteers from across the U.S. responded to this inconceivable tragedy.
MoMA: PS1’s September 11 Exhibit brought together more than 70 works by 41 artists—many made prior to 9/11—to explore the attacks’ enduring and far-reaching resonance. “Eschewing images of the event itself, as well as art made directly in response, the exhibition provides a subjective framework within which to reflect upon the attacks in New York and their aftermath, and explores the ways that they have altered how we see and experience the world in their wake.”
More Reading on Art after September 11