Serra's Tilted Arc and Public Art
(from Gregg Horowitz: "Public Art/Public Space: the Spectacle of the Tilted Arc
Controversy" (JAAC 1996)
and “Transcript of a hearing to decide the future of Tilted Arc”
- Story of Tilted Arc
- Tilted Arc commissioned by Federal government (GSA) for permanent installation in
Federal Plaza in Manhattan (NY City)
- Installed in 1981; hearings in 1985
- Taken down and put in storage (destroyed?) in 1989
- General Services Administration (GSA) makes and maintains government property
- Its "Art in
Architecture"(AIA) program takes ½ of one percent of cost of
construction or repair and puts it toward funding public art
- The long steel wall (120 feet long by 12 feet high) Richard Serra produced was consistent with
earlier works and the concept approved by GSA
- A few objections raised when first installed, but because displeasure
is typical at first when any public art is installed, nothing came of this
- In 1985, Diamond a regional administrator of GSA (appointed by
Ronald Regan-both a friend and foe of the arts) opposed the
structure and he convened a public hearing (in order to get it taken down,
- 58 testified for removal, 122 against
- Panel of 4 GSA administrators (Diamond stacked the panel
with his own employees) voted for removal
- Serra fought the decision in the courts until appeals exhausted in 1989 and GSA
took it apart and placed pieces in storage
- Photos of Tilted Arc :
- Other possibilities for the plaza: Red sculpture
- Today?: Colorful seats in plaza
OPINIONS ABOUT TA FROM THE TRANSCRIPT OF THE HEARINGS
- TA opponents comments (most from people who worked near plaza):
- A "rusted metal wall"
- Looks like "an abandoned piece of construction material"
- "Thought it was an antiterrorist barricade" and wondered "why couldn't have made a more attractive one"
- "Looks like a tank trap to prevent an armed attack from Chinatown in case of Soviet invasion; but one good Russian tank could probably take it out"
- "Harsh disorienting effect"
- "If we call that art, anything can be art: An old broken bicycle that got run over by a car could be put there, named, and called art-that's what has been done here"
- This is an opposition to much modern art and does not understand what Serra is trying to do
- "Reclaim this small oasis for the respite and relaxation for which intended"
- "Artist making a political statement about trade policy (symbol of protectionist viewpoint) as it is outside Court of International Trade"
- Sculpture's aim was to destroy another artistic creation: "It destroyed the plaza's original artistic concept"
- Horowitz claims there was little artistic value in original square
- TA "forgets the human element...not a dispute between forces of ignorance and art or art versus government; expect more from artists"
- Danny Katz: "Arrogant position that art justifies interference with the simple joys of human activity in the plaza.This is not a great plaza by international standards, but a small refuge and place of revival for people who ride to work in steel containers, work in sealed rooms (with no windows) and breathe recirculated air all day. Is the purpose of art to stress the absence of joy and hope? I can't believe this was the artistic intention, yet sadly this has been the dominant effect of the work (It is arguable that "stressing the absence of joy and hope" was part of Serra's purpose, as interpreted by Horowitz )...I can accept anything in art, but I can't accept physical assault and complete destruction of ordinary human activity...no work of art created with a contempt of ordinary humanity and w/o respect for the common element of human experience can be great...I suggest Mr. Serra take advantage of this opportunity to walk away from this fiasco and move the work to a place where it will better reveal its beauty."
- Liebman: "Regarded the square as a relaxing space where could walk, sit and contemplate in unhurried manner; dream of additional seating areas, more cultural events; now just memories; TA did not add significant value to plaza, but condemned us to lead emptier lives. The children, bands and I no longer visit the plaza."
- TA supporters comments (most from artworld):
- "Learn more about ourselves and social relations and nature of spaces we inhabit by keeping Tilted Arc in the plaza than without it"
- "Role not to please, entertain or pacify, but to provide an experience that is active, dynamic and keeps us aware of the increasing scarcity of freedom in our world"
- "TA is a modern art piece that challenges us to question received values and nature of art and art's relation to public"
- "Impressionist & post-impressionist paintings were at first reviled and greeted by ridicule by the public and established press. Eiffel Tower was considered a visual obscenity. Truly challenging works of art require a period before they are understood by general public. Should defer the decision to remove for ten years"
- "TA has subversive value as its tilt and rust remind us that the gleaming and heartless steel and glass structures of the state apparatus can someday pass away; it gives us unconscious sense of opposition and hope"
- "Should not let public dispute force the destruction of any artwork with a benign civilizing effect"
QUESTIONS ABOUT TILTED ARC
- Was removal of Tilted Arc (=TA) a democratic action or anti-democratic?
- Was it censorship (in a bad sense?)
- Reasons to think it was undemocratic
- Public procedure put it there
- Serra (and others argue that) public chose the sculpture: GSA, a public entity, chose artist and made decision to install sculpture permanently, using national standards and formal procedures and a jury system insuring impartiality and selecting art of lasting value
- Opponent's reply: "Tired and dangerous reasoning that government has made a deal and so let the rabble live with the steel, because it's a deal. This is a mentality that leads to wars.
- Speakers at the hearing were 2 to 1 in favor of it remaining
- Horowitz argues process not really democratic as ignored this "polling" (122 to 58)
- Horowitz claims that the procedure and panel making the decision were manipulated by GSA administrator so that Tilted Arc would be removed
- Reasons to think it was a democratic decision:
- Probably a vote of uninformed people walking in the plaza
wanted it to be removed?
- Many (most?) considered it an ugly obstruction
- Workers in surrounding buildings resented its presence
- Petitions to take it down
- "Plaza returned to the people" (says regional director of GSA)
- Should decisions about public art be democratic?
- Should they be determined by popularity, that is, a popular vote?
- DISCUSSION OF SITE SPECIFICITY AND IDEA THAT MOVING TA WOULD DESTROY IT
- Tilted arc has a proprietary claim on the plaza just as a painting has to its canvas
- Artists have moral rights to prevent modification /destruction of their artwork
- Serra: To remove Tilted Arc would be to destroy it
- To move it is to destroy it as it was designed for that site
- I don't make portable objects that can be relocated
- Make works that deal with env. components of given places
- Scale, size location of site specific works are determine by the characteristics of the site
- Works become part of and built into structure of site and often restructure it both conceptually and perceptually
- Donald Judd: "One should not destroy art, old or new; art is visible civilization; those who want to ruin Serra's work are barbarians"
- Critics "Object to idea those of us who oppose this structure are cretins and reactionaries"
- Horowitz: TA designed for site and in part derived its identify from its site; taking it from the plaza was its destruction
- Did TA enhance or negate the artistic or aesthetic value of the plaza?
- Did it
contribute value to the plaza?
- Did the plaza have any positive aesthetic value before TA?
- Did TA purposes and goals and consequences have artistic value?
- What were these goals and values?
- Why doesn't Serra come right out and tell us what his (political?)
goals are for this sculpture
- Serra description of his own sculptures
- My sculptures are not objects for viewer to stop and stare at
- They create a behavioral space where viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context
- People's identity connected to their experience of space/place, and site specific sculptures can call on people to relate to the space differently
- It may startle them (and affect their identity?)
- Others say Serra's aims were to:
- "Alter and dislocate the decorative function of the plaza"
- Redefine the space and change viewer's experience of the plaza
- Horowitz on TA's value
- Alleged bad consequences if let pressure destroy this artwork
- Serra: If public pressure can get GSA to reverse decision
- Integrity of government programs related to art will be compromised
- Artists of integrity will not participate
- Kelly claims: "Serra has retreated from public art projects in the U.S."
- Governments' capacity to foster artistic diversity and protect freedom of creative expression will be jeopardized
Public Art/Public Space: the Spectacle of the Tilted Arc
controversy (JAAC 1996)
- Eds on Horowitz
- Instead of a triumph of the public over an elitist/patronizing art world
- Not a triumph of democracy but a victory of regressive political
strategy over genuine democratic discourse
- Goal of tilted arc was to provoke the public to engage in critical
discussion of nature of public space
- Work can be responsive to the public by making demands on it and
this is at least as responsive as a work that is to the public's liking
- Tilted Arc can provoke genuine democratic
discourse, but so can graffiti!
- Horowitz's general characterizations of the TA controversy
- Viewed as the protection of public space from public art
- Saved the public from art
- Event staged as a contest between:
- The public interest and the artworld
- Concern for open space and effete aesthetic concerns
- People and art
- A drama that has been staged with increased frequency/ferocity in the
years since TA
- Removal of TA was censorship
- Strategy of "censorship as liberation"
- Used by regressive political forces for anti-democratic goals
- Opposition to critical art became a mask for anti-democratic
Three objections to TA Horowitz responds to: