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

                   ii.      Where government goes after artists and art

         b.      “Strategy of censorship-as-liberation used by regressive political forces (for) anti-democratic (purposes)”

2.      Horowitz agrees that TA was destroyed

         a.      Government destroying art!



         a.      One: TA an improper symbol

         b.      Two: Sculpture destroyed original beauty of the Plaza

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


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

         a.      It failed to be an affirmative symbol of grandeur, openness, freedom and democratic accessibility

         b.      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

         c.      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.     “A proper function of public art is to provoke critical reflection and dialogue on the space it occupies”

                            (1)    “Federal plaza was a sign of the powerlessness of those who walked through it and served to create fantasies of liberation”

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

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

                   vi.     Under this interpretation, TA presented a political objection and what happened was censorship of a political message


5.      Two: TA destroyed the beauty of the plaza

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

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

                   ii.      Plaza looks like oppressive government-corporate power

                   iii.     An example of a federally-funded urban renewal project that destroyed downtowns while trying to help them economically

                            (1)    Ugly incompleteness of Federal Plaza, as money to finish it dried up

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

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

         c.               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”

         d.      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

         e.      Plaza was a substitute (a symbol) for real public space and Tilted Arc disrupted that symbol

                   i.       “Its primary crime was that it was an obstacle to imagining the existence of nonexistence public space”


6.      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"

         b.      Horowitz reply

                   i.       TA did not interrupt free passage through the plaza

                   ii.      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

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

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


Study Questions on Horowitz on Tilted Arc 

1.      What do you think the “meaning” of TA was; what did it symbolize? What was Serra trying to do with TA?

2.      According to Horowitz, what did people want TA (or a sculpture in that plaza) to symbolize or do?

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

4.      What was Horowitz's response to the claims that Tilted Arc (1) destroyed the beauty of the plaza and (2) blocked the ordinary walking patterns of the users of the plaza?