Gregg Horowitz

Public Art/Public Space: The Spectacle of the Tilted Arc Controversy (1996)


1.       Horowitz thinks the TA controversy was a staged event to look as if it was a battle between “people and art”

          a.       A controversy created to give the appearance of the public triumphing over an elitist/patronizing Artworld

                    i.        A battle staged with increased frequency/ferocity in the years since TA



          a.       One: TA an improper symbol of the function housed in courthouse and Federal Building and plaza itself

          b.       Two: Sculpture destroyed original beauty of the Plaza

          c.       Three: Prevented the plaza from being used for other purposes


3.       One: TA an improper symbol (it failed to be an affirmative symbol of grandeur)

          a.        TA an improper symbol for a beneficent federal government providing open space

                    i.        Those who worked in the courthouse wanted TA to symbolize the glory of American justice as a kind of self-affirmation

                    ii.       TA should have been a symbol of openness, freedom, and democratic accessibility of the government

          b.       Horowitz response:

                    i.        Our modern cities lack open space for the most part

                    ii.       Rather than providing it, the government has failed to provide it

                    iii.      Serra's TA was a criticism of public space in cities and got people to see how ugly the plaza was?

                    iv.      People did not like this message and so squelched it

                    v.       This seems like a straightforward political objection and suggests censorship of a political message


4.       Two: TA destroyed the beauty of the plaza

5.       Horowitz reply: Federal Plaza was already ugly and TA only destroyed a beautiful fantasy

          a.       This is one of the ugliest projects in lower Manhattan

          b.       Plaza looks like government-corporate power

          c.       An example of a federally-funded urban renewal project that destroyed down towns while trying to help them economically

                    i.        Ugly incompleteness of Federal Plaza, as money to finish it dried up

6.       Horowitz reply: TA destroyed a dream about the plaza

          a.       Those who objected to TA had fantasies about the plaza and public life

          b.        Liebman: “Walk, sit and contemplate in unhurried manner, ray of sunshine bathe the plaza, cool spray of fountain misting hot air, band concerts, children playing, mothers with baby carriages and so on”

          c.       Horowitz:

                    i.        17 years of plaza's existence prior to TA fewer than 20 public events

                    ii.       No place to sit other than the lip of the fountain (because it was usually dry)

                    iii.      A notoriously windy site

                    iv.      Liebman's dream blocked not by TA but by the space itself and not fair to blame TA for this lack

                    v.       TA became controversial because it deprived people of illusions about what the plaza was (or could or should be)

                              (1)     All these folks crammed into offices with no windows, needing a place to go and sit for lunch to get away from "the brutality" of the office complexes

                              (2)     They turn their anger and despair at TA which deprives them of their ability to imagine/pretend that the plaza is the beautiful, relaxing, valuable public space they need and want


7.       Three: The plaza rendered less useful by TA?

          a.       The sculpture "act as a barrier to the building" "alters normal walking patterns" made "access to the building awkward and confusing"

8.       Horowitz reply

          a.       TA did not interrupt free passage through the plaza

          b.       Serra did studies required by GSA to determine if artwork would interfere with routine passages from street to building and discovered that it would not

          c.       He left half the plaza open for social functions and gave non-working fountain a wide berth

          d.       TA did not interfere with paths of transit, though appeared to do so


Study Questions on Horowitz on Tilted Arc 

1.         What was Horowitz's response to the claims that Tilted Arc destroyed the beauty of the plaza and blocked the ordinary walking patterns of the users of the plaza?

2.         According to Horowitz, why did TA become controversial?