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NPR: America Responds -- The Home Front: Lost Art

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Lost Art
Hundreds of Works Were Destroyed in the Trade Center Attack

 Listen to Jon Kalish's report on art lost in the attack.

Oct. 16, 2001 -- Amid the wreckage of New York's World Trade Center lie hundreds of works of art, many created by famous artists. While nothing compares to the human lives lost in the tragedy, the destruction of so many works represents a significant loss to the art world.

Correspondent Jon Kalish reports for Morning Edition that the public art shown in common areas alone was estimated to be worth about $10 million.

Sculptor Elyn Zimmerman says the likely destruction of her memorial is a "double loss" for the victims' families.
Photo: Elyn Zimmerman

Perhaps the most tragic loss is the destruction of sculptor Elyn Zimmerman's memorial to the victims of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The piece consisted of a fountain surrounded by a circular wall bearing the names of those killed in the bombing. It was erected in the complex's plaza, directly above the spot in the underground parking lot where a bomb in a rented van exploded, leaving six people dead and more than 1,000 injured.

Along with the victims' names was inscribed this message: ''This horrible act of violence killed innocent people, injured thousands, and made victims of us all.''

Losing the memorial represents a "double loss" for the families of the dead, Zimmerman says.

Also gone is sculptor Louise Nevelson's "Sky Gate New York," a wood relief wall-hanging made of found objects. It was inspired by an airborne view of the Manhattan skyline.

"Bent Propeller," a 25-foot-tall red steel abstract sculpture by Alexander Calder, and a stainless steel cubist sculpture by James Rosati are also buried in the wreckage, along with many other works.

"The Sphere" by Fritz Koenig was found amid the wreckage. The former curator of the World Trade Center thinks it might be salvageable.
Photo: The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

As curator for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the trade center, Saul Wenegrat was responsible for placing most of the pieces. Although he's retired, he's been visiting the site regularly since Sept. 11, looking for any art he may be able to save. So far, he's found only a bronze sphere by German sculptor Fritz Koenig, which Wenegrat thinks could be repaired.

He's less hopeful about a tapestry by Spanish surrealist Joan Miro, which was in the mezzanine of Tower Two.

It's unknown how much art was destroyed because much of it was owned by private companies and kept in their offices. There were also 14 with studios in the trade center. One of them, 38-year-old sculptor Michael Richards, died in the attack. He had spent the past eight years working on a series of pieces about the Tuskegee Airmen, the black pilots of World War II.

Curator Franklin Sirmans, a friend of Richards, recalls the last time he saw the artist at an art opening just a couple of weeks before the attack. Richards was "running back downtown from the opening to get to his studio. He liked to be in the studio and making work."

Other Resources

Read a Sculpture Magazine interview with Elyn Zimmerman.