I did jury duty recently, and on my way to and from the courthouse each day I couldn’t not think about the most famous destroyed work of public art anywhere in New York. I never saw Titled Arc, which was destroyed when I was six. But I’ve never found it to be one of Serra’s more successful works, and in any event the lost sculpture is too iconic for its own good. Its mixed-up story of 1980s culture wars and contested site specificity turns modern art into a morality play, and it doesn’t illuminate sufficiently the experience of art in a certain place at a certain time.
But a few weeks after 9/11—an event that Serra witnessed from his studio on Duane Street, and which is inscribed onto the history of Bellamy and his other torqued ellipses of 2001—Matthew Barney told the New York Times that Tilted Arc was a way station on his explorations of Lower Manhattan, which reminded him of home out west:
In my first years here, I would lead a late-night tour for friends visiting from Idaho. First, we would go to the Brooklyn Bridge and climb into the safety nets over the inbound traffic and gaze back at the lights of Manhattan. Next, Richard Serra’s ”Tilted Arc” in Federal Plaza, onto which we would reverently urinate. And last, the plaza between the twin towers, where we would lie on our backs and look up the sheer faces of stainless steel. We would always talk about how the verticality of the city felt strangely similar to parts of Idaho, that denser parts of the financial district felt like the winding gorges of the River of No Return.
Barney, of course, went on to cast Serra as the villain of Cremaster 3, the only one of those five films set in New York, in which the older sculpture recreates his early thrown lead works with Vaseline. Titled Arc, I can’t help thinking, is the hidden supplement of that three-hour epic.Read More