Wednesday, October 2, 2002

Controversial 9/11 sculpture kept from public view following complaints from onlookers

Officials at New York's Rockerfeller Center kept artist 
Eric Fischl's 9/11 sculpture, "Tumbling Woman" from 
public after complaint from onlookers who found the 
image disturbing.
The most blatant form of censorship went on display last month at New York’s Rockerfeller Center a week after the televised memorial services for the victims lost last Sept. 11 at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Pennsylvania.

A bronze statue was draped in cloth and curtained off because of complaints from onlookers who said the image was too disturbing according to a Sept. 18 article by the Associated Press.

The bronze sculpture, called “Tumbling Woman”, was made by artist Eric Fischl which featured a naked female with her arms and legs extended outward as she is falling to her death from the World Trade Center, her head and shoulders, hitting the pavement first.

The artist’s work, according to writer Katherine Roth’s 9/18/02 article by the Associated Press, was “designed as a memorial to those who jumped or fell to their death from the World Trade Center.”

I’ll admit the sculpture’s image caught me off guard when I first saw pictures of it on a number of websites. My first impression was probably the same as those upset by its appearance. I thought it was unnecessary to depict someone approaching the final stages of his or her doom before lying violently to rest on earth.

Then after looking at the photos for a moment, I found the work really wasn’t that disturbing at all.

I found the piece to represent the desperate situation those poor souls were in after the first plane hit the upper floors of the first tower. We know now that most of the victims were trapped and that the plane’s impact wrecked any chances of getting down alive. The decision they made was either burn to death or jump. Those, for me, are the lasting most heartbreaking images of 9/11. Not when the buildings collapsed.

According to Roth’s article, “some onlookers said there is a need for art that captures the horror of Sept. 11.”

"I don’t think that it’s done in bad taste,” said Christine Defonces who was quoted in Roth’s AP story. “It’s an artist’s reaction to what happened.”

"The sculpture was not meant to hurt anybody,” Fischl said in a statement according to Roth’s column. “It was a sincere expression of deepest sympathy for the vulnerability of the human condition. Both specifically towards the victims of Sept. 11 and towards humanity in general.”

Fischl’s comment, however, wasn’t enough to curtail the complaints.

"I don’t think it dignifies their deaths,” said Paul Labb according to the same story. “It’s not art. It is very disrupting when you see it.”

“It’s awful,” said a security guard who was quoted by New York Post columnist Andrea Peyser in her column that was also discussed in a September 19, 2002 editorial by the New York Sun.

According to the New York Sun’s editorial, Peyser quoted a security guard who “felt as if he were being dragged against his will back to the terrible day when he actually watched human beings fall from the sky.”

I’d love to ask those same people, including Ms. Peyser, who in her column at the Post according to the Sun’s editorial called Fischl’s work “a violently disturbing sculpture”, a few questions.

I wonder if Peyser and those who complained are the same people who stop or slow down on the interstate whenever there is a car accident to see if there are any dead bodies to look at?

I have read a number of unsettling news accounts describing the horrors of 9/11.

If Mr. Fischl had sculpted such things as a severed hand with $40 dollars in it or a few passenger seats with only the torsos strapped in or images of body parts strewn all over the rooftops of neighboring buildings, would Peyser and her entourage reacted the same way?

Are these the same people who watch such top rated shows as Law and Order, C.S.I. Crime Scene Investigation and ER and who last weekend shelled out $37 million to see Anthony Hopkins’ Dr. Lecter go for a third helping in Red Dragon? All these shows have one thing in common, aside from I suppose, a good story - death and dying.

Last September, Hollywood paused, albeit briefly, debating when the public would be comfortable to see violent war movies and films with terrorist themed plots again after 9/11. So much for the supposed long wait.

Some of the most blood drenched films released this year that have either hit the $100 million mark or close to it were pictures about war (Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers)and Irish gangsters (Road To Perdition). Black Hawk Down and We Were Soldiers didn’t spare audiences the grisly shots of American military servicemen being blown apart by guns and grenades. Nor for that matter did Pearl Harbor (2001) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).

I didn’t hear anyone complain about how graphically offensive or tasteless those movies were which do, in effect, depict to some extent what really happened on the battlefield. Their message was war is Hell.

What happened on 9/11 was Hell and Eric Fischl’s “Tumbling Woman” had something to say about what America witnessed that day. Yet some people refuse to accept it.

Perhaps it’s because images of victims falling to their deaths brought home to those civilians who complained about the artist’s work, a grim reality they still refuse to face.

Instead, they’d rather sit in front of such shows as ER and C.S.I. where in their minds fantasy and reality don’t go hand in hand. It’s all mindless drama and all done in good taste; the night time equivalent of a daytime soap opera.

The fact is art, whether it be a painting or statue, movies, television shows, music, literature, ballet, or a play are not just forms of entertainment. It’s all art. Even The Jerry Springer Show as much as I loathe to admit it. They are made to illicit a response from the viewer, listener or reader. He or she can decide if they like it or don’t.

I don’t have a problem when people voice their opinions about something they dislike. What makes this country great is freedom of speech. People can voice their likes and dislikes on various issues without being thrown in prison. Not everyone, however, shares the same opinion.

What I won’t stand for is when a small group of people protest so much so that a decision is made to pull one’s work from display for the good of all society.

There are no winners when that happens, only losers. And last month, the losers were the patrons at Rockerfeller Center, who unlike Ms. Peyser and those psychologically troubled after seeing Fischl’s work, were denied the chance to view a thought provoking sculpture and form their own opinion.


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