Richard Serra: The Case of Tilted Arc

 

 

Background

GSA Art-in-Architecture Program

During the presidency of John F. Kennedy, and based upon the vision of Nelson Rockefeller who founded the contemporary model for governmental support of the arts in the New York State Council on the Arts, two programs were established to commission artworks for public spaces. A federal agency, the General Services Administration or GSA, established the Art -in-Architecture Program in 1963, with the National Endowment for the Arts' Art in Public Places Program following in 1967. In the GSA Art-in-Architecture program, 1/2 of 1% of a federal building's costs are to be allocated for public art. Since 1972, this has resulted in the commissioning of over 200 paintings, sculptures, tapestries, and fiber pieces by artists known either regionally or internationally. Commissioned artists have included Louise Bourgeios, Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero, Louise Nevelson, Isamu Noguchi, George Segal, Tony Smith, Frank Stella, and Claes Oldenburg.

Although administrated in different ways, the purpose of both the GSA and the National Endowment for the arts programs is aesthetic&emdash;that is, to enhance public places and to expand public awareness of contemporary art by the installation of artworks by contemporary U.S. artists. The GSA's Art-In-Architecture Program views its commissions to artists as part of an effort to build a "national collection" of artwork by contemporary U.S. artists that will be exhibited in a geographically dispersed manner. In order to insure a variety of artists from various parts of the country, the award of a major commission is limited to one per artist.

Public commissions

The three major parties in public art commissions are:

1. the artists, who desire artistic freedom, recognition, and security for their work;

2. the commissioning public agencies, that are responsible for the aesthetic welfare of society as well as meeting political and procedural expectations regarding their resources; and

3. the public, which lives with the work and gives assent or dissent to it.

The major issue of concern for each party varies. For the artist, it is aesthetic. For the public agency, it is political and legal. For the public, it is aesthetic and sociological. These concerns may converge; in the case of Tilted Arc, they do not.

About Richard Serra

Richard Serra is an internationally recognized minimalist artist. The minimalist arat movement began in the 1960s. Artists sought to find essences through a reduction of form and meaning. Serra's work is located in museums all over the world. His arcs are designed for specific sites and establish spatial tension and an elegant&emdash;if brutal and powerful&emdash;presence.

Other Serra site-specific works include Berlin Block for Charlie Chaplin (Berlin, 1977), Terminal (Bochum, West Germany, 1977), Twain (St. Louis), La Palmera (Barcelona), Clara-Clara (Paris, 1983). Experiencing the work is an important aspect of it. For instance, Clara-Clara consists of two identical sections of a cone placed side by side with one section inverted so that the slant of the two sections is in the same direction. As viewers experience the sculpture, they sense speed and mobility. Another important aspect is the sculpture's interaction with site. St. John's Rotary Arc (located in Manhattan, near the exit from the Holland Tunnel) is shaped as a section in the circumference of an 800 foot wide circle. The sculpture stands apart from the social world, occupying a site&emdash;the center of a traffic circle&emdash; seen but rarely entered or traversed by pedestrians. Because Rotary Arc is located in the center of a traffic circle but forms a part of an imaginary larger circle that intersects the traffic circle, the piece creates a tension with its site.

As only parts of these sculptures can be seen from any one vantage point, they require that the viewer take time with the sculpture&emdash;in walking, looking, remembering, and anticipating. They change to the viewer's eye with each step, heightening his or her awareness of the relationship of the sculpture to him or herself and to the surrounding space. Serra wants to involve the viewer in his work, both spatially and temporally.

Critic Laura Rosenstock writes of Serra's works that they:

involve the viewer in [a] . . . creative, exploratory process. They heighten perceptual awareness and virtually force interaction. They compel the viewer to confront his [or her] experience and perception . . . in relation to both space and time . . . All Serra's sculptures are concerned with what can actually be experienced and observed.

Serra is also interested in the physical properties of sculpture, in the weight, in the material. Cor-ten steel, a manufacturing material subject to external rust, is one of his favorite media.

Tilted Arc

Richard Serra, "Tilted Arc," Federal Plaza, New York, 1981
Cor-ten steel. 12' x 120' x 2 1/2"
(Click on image for a larger view)

Argues art critic Robert Storr,

Tilted Arc stands as a monument to the convergence of formalist art and 'formalist' politics&emdash;a politics, that is, of theory without praxis&emdash;with the aspirations of the art falling prey to the manifest contradictions of the politics. Moreover, it is a reminder that when the interest of artists and those of a largely uninformed and hostile community collide, however self-evident the moral, social and aesthetic questions involved may seem, in practical terms the burden of proof will always fall upon art's defenders.

The sculpture is of cor-ten steel, 120 feet long, 12 feet high, 2 1/2 inches thick, and 72 tons. The Arc's surface is unadorned. It is located in the Federal Plaza (also known as Foley Square) in lower Manhattan in front of the Jacob K. Javits federal office building and surrounded by other federal and state buildings. The Arc tilts slightly toward the office building and the trade courthouse and sweeps across the center of the plaza, dividing it into two distinct areas. The area is one of the densest working areas in the country; the Javits Building alone houses 10,000 government workers&emdash;the second largest government office building in the country after the Pentagon. The Javits Building, built in 1968, is generally regarded as unpleasant and difficult to work in, plagued with architectural and engineering flaws. The Javits building houses the regional offices of the General Services Administration, or GSA.

The Award Process

Tilted Arc was commissioned by the GSA as part of its Art-in-Architecture program. In the mid-1970s, the GSA decided to commission a work of art for installation in the plaza in front of the building's entrance&emdash;art was not commissioned when the building was completed because the GSA's art-in-architecture program had been temporarily suspended. In 1979, the National Endowment for the Arts, whom the GSA had appointed to determine artist and artwork, designated an advisory panel comprised of three art world professionals (Patricia Fuller of the NEA, Joseph Colt of an architectural engineering firm, museum curators Suzanne Delehanty of SUNY-Purchase, Ira Licht of the University of Miami, Florida, and art history professor and art critic Robert Pincus-Witten of CUNY) to select a work, a process instituted to assure artistic quality. The panel awarded Serra the commission to design a work for the site. Following extensive engineering studies and prolonged negotiations with the GSA's own design review panel, Serra's design proposal was approved. The work was installed in the plaza in July, 1981. Serra was paid $175,000 for the sculpture; Serra testified that he did not make money on the sculpture, a fact corroborated by the director of the Art-in-Architecture Program because of the enormous expenses involved in creating and locating the sculpture.

Tilted Arc does not convey the obvious symbolism of public sculpture such as the Statue of Liberty. It is, however, not lacking in symbolism. Yet, while it may represent U.S. individualism and inventiveness, such symbolism is not packaged in recognizable terms.

 

The Case: Serra v. the Office of Operations, GSA

Tilted Arc was greeted with hostility by many of the federal plaza office workers. Two months after its installation, a petition with 1300 signatures of federal employees working in and around the plaza requesting the removal of the sculpture was submitted to the GSA. The architect of the Javits Building, Alfred Easton Poor, sent a letter to GSA in the fall after the installation of the sculpture, objecting to Tilted Arc because it obstructed the view from one building to another and from the building to the fountain also located in the federal plaza, and because his firm, which designed the building, was not consulted. In 1984, a New York congressman and a federal judge also asked it be removed.

Serra's case hinged on the government's violation (some consider abrogation) of his contract. Serra contended that his inducement for entering into the contract was the promise that the work would be permanently installed at the site for which it was designed. Although the promise was oral, Serra claimed a breach of contract.

Those supporting the retention of Tilted Arc on the Federal Plaza did not all claim to like the work, but all took stands on behalf of artistic freedom of expression and protection from censorship under First Amendment rights. They also emphasized the site-specificity of the work, which supported Serra's contention that its removal would be tantamount to its "destruction" and that the GSA had an obligation to maintain the contractual agreement.

Diamond and others wishing the removal of the sculpture argued that official responsibility for the public's aesthetic and nonaesthetic welfare was being violated by the permanent presence of a disliked work. They also argued that public art must not offend the public that pays for it and that to retain a work against the public's wishes would interfere with the public's "freedom of expression," which the agency was obliged to protect. They also claimed that the GSA owned the work and this gave the GSA the right to remove it; that any guarantee of permanence was contingent upon circumstance because neither the building itself nor the site could be expected to endure permanently.

The GSA contract provided that:

1. Serra shall determine the artistic expression, subject to its being acceptable to the government.

2. The work shall be of a material and size mutually agreeable to the government and artist.

3. Serra will submit a sketch or other document that conveys the work he propose to furnish within 180 days of the contract execution date (Sept. 1979).

4. The GSA has 30 days after this submission to determine the acceptability of the proposed artistic expression.

The case was summoned by William Diamond, regional administrator of the GSA, who in 1984 had circulated a petition demanding the removal of Tilted Arc. He had obtained nearly 4,000 signatures supporting the removal of Tilted Arc. In March of 1985, Diamond convened a three-day public hearing before a five-person panel to consider the disposition of Tilted Arc. The panel included Diamond himself, Michael Findlay of Christie's; Thomas Lewin, an art collector and lawyer; Paul Chistolini, and Gerald Turetsky. Two persons on the panel had been appointed to the GSA by Diamond himself. Presiding was Judge Edward D. Re, Chief Justice of the United States Court of International Trade, who also has lobbied heavily to reopen the criticism after three years of relative quiet. No one from the art community whose specific expertise was public sculpture was appointed. Some of the arguments presented during those hearings follow.

The Arguments for the Removal of Tilted Arc

Representative Ted Weiss:

Imagine, if you will, this curved slab of welded steel twelve feet high, 120 feet long, and weighing over seventy-three tons bisecting the street in front of your house,and you can imagine the reaction to Tilted Arc of those who live and work in the area.

Adding to the shock effect is the sculpture's natural oxide coating, which gives it the appearance of a rusted metal wall. Many who first viewed Tilted Arc regarded it as an abandoned piece of construction material, a relic perhaps too large and cumbersome to move.

The artist is said to have intended with this piece to "alter and dislocate the decorative function of the plaza." If that was the intent, one may conclude from the sculpture's harsh, disorienting effect that the artist has eloquently succeeded.

But what of those who live and work nearby? The sculpture cuts a huge swath across the center of the plaza, dividing it in two and acting as a barrier to the building's main doorways. Access to the building is awkward and confusing, and the normal walking patterns of those who enter and exit the building are disrupted.

The time has come to find a new location for Tilted Arc.

Mr. Serra argues that because his work is site specific, moving it to another location would destroy it. It has, he maintains, a proprietary claim upon the plaza just as real as that of a painting to its canvas. I suggest that there are other valid claims upon the plaza that conflict with Mr. Serra's, and that the scales tip in their favor. The community--those thousands of people who live and work in the area--has the right to reclaim this small oasis for the respite and relaxation for which it was intended.

Phil La Basi

I have been a federal employee for twenty-two years, about eleven years in this building.

First of all, I would like to say that I really resent the implication that those of us who oppose this structure are cretins or some sort of reactionaries.

It seems to be very typical of self-serving artists and so-called pseudo intellectuals that when they disagree with something someone else has to say, they attack the person. So I am not going to attack the artist.

What I see there is something that looks like a tank trap to prevent an armed attack from Chinatown in case of a Soviet invasion. In my mind it probably wouldn't even do that well, because one good Russian tank could probably take it out.

To be very serious, I wouldn't call it Tilted Arc. To me it looks like crooked metal or bent metal. I think we can call anything art if we call that art. I think any one of these people here could come along with an old broken bicycle that perhaps got run over by a car, or some other piece of material, and pull it up and call it art and name it something. I think that was what was done here . . .

Joseph Liebman

I am the attorney in charge of the International Trade Field office, Civil Division, U.S. Department of Justice, with offices located at 26 Federal Plaza.

I have worked at 26 Federal Plaza since 1969. While the plaza never fulfilled all my expectations, until 1980 I regarded it as a relaxing space where I could walk, sit, and contemplate in an unhurried manner. Every now and then rays of sunshine bathed the plaza, creating new vistas and moods for its vibrant, unchallenged space.

I remember those moments. I remember the cool spray of the fountain misting the hot air. I remember the band concerts. I remember the musical sounds of neighborhood children playing on the plaza while their mothers rocked baby carriages. I remember walking freely in the plaza, contemplating the examination of a witness, undisturbed by the presence of other people engaged in conversation or young lovers holding hands. I also remember my dreams of additional seating areas, more cultural events, temporary outdoor exhibits of painting and sculpture, and ethnic dance festivals.

All of those things are just memories now.

Regardless of the thoughtfulness and artistic accomplishment of its creator, Tilted Arc fails to add significant value to the plaza. The arc has condemned us to lead emptier lives. The children, the bands, and I no longer visit the plaza. Instead, the arc divides space against itself. Whatever artistic value the arc may have does not justify the disruption of the plaza and our lives.

The arc, a creation of mortal hand, should yield. Relocate it in another land. Reprieve us from our desolate condemnation . . .

Judge Dominick DiCarlo

I had my first encounter with Tilted Arc after learning that I was being considered for appointment to the United states Court of International Trade. I was driving on Centre Street when I saw it. What is it? It's a 120-fot-by-twelve-foot rusted piece of iron. Having just returned from visiting our embassies in Rome, Islamabad, Rangoon, and Bangkok, I concluded that this rusted iron object was an anti-terrorist barricade, part of a crash program to protect United States government building against terrorist activities. But why such a huge barricade? Was this an overreaction? Why in cities where terrorist activity is much greater are comparatively attractive highway dividers and concrete pillars sufficient to do the job?

After my appointment to the court, I was told that this was art. Was it a thing of beauty? Could be, since beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Could its maker be making a political statement? Perhaps it was a discarded and rusted piece of the iron curtain. Or perhaps its author was expressing his views on trade policy. This is the Court of International Trade. Was his iron barrier symbolic of a protectionist viewpoint?

We don't have to guess why the iron wall was placed in the plaza. Those responsible have told us. It was to alter and dislocate the decorative function of the plaza, to redefine the space, to change the viewers' experience of that plaza. Simply put, their intention was to destroy the plaza's original artistic concept, the concept of its architects.

To object to the removal of the iron wall on the basis of an honest, moral right to preserve the integrity of the work is astounding, since the sculptor's intent was to destroy another artistic creation . . .

Peter Hirsch

I am the research director and legal counsel for the Association of Immigration Attorneys. We are constantly at 26 Federal Plaza, since that is where the Immigration Service is located.

My membership has authorized me to say that we are entirely opposed to Tilted Arc. My own personal view is that a good place to put Tilted Arc would be in the Hudson River . . .I am told that they are going to have to put artificial things in the river to provide shelter for the striped bass. I think Tilted Arc would make a very fine shelter.

Danny Katz

My name is Danny Katz and I work in this building as a clerk. My friend Vito told me this morning that I am a philistine. Despite that, I am getting up to speak. Listen fast, because I hear seconds being counted and tempers are high.

The blame falls on everyone involved in this project from the beginning for forgetting the human element. I don't think this issue should be elevated into a dispute between the forces of ignorance and art, or art versus government. I really blame government less because it has long ago outgrown its human dimension. But from the artists I expected a lot more.

I didn't expect to hear them rely on the tired and dangerous reasoning that the government has made a deal, so let the rabble live with the steel because it's a deal. That kind of mentality leads to wars. We had a deal with Vietnam.

I didn't expect to hear the arrogant position that art justifies interference with the simple joys of human activity in a plaza. It's not a great plaza by It's not a great plaza by international standards, but it is a small refuge and place of revival for people who ride to work in steel containers, work in sealed rooms, and breathe re-circulated air all day. Is the purpose of art in public places to seal off a route of escape, to stress the absence of joy and hope? I can't believe that this was the artistic intention, yet to my sadness this for me has been the dominant effect of the work, and it's all the fault of its position and location.

I can accept anything in art, but I can't accept physical assault and complete destruction of pathetic human activity.

No work of art created with a contempt for ordinary humanity and without respect for the common element of human experience can be great. It will always lack a dimension.

I don't believe the contempt is in the work. The work is strong enough to stand alone in a better place. I would suggest to Mr. Serra that he tasks advantage of this opportunity to walk away from this fiasco and demand that the work be moved to a place where it will better reveal its beauty.

More arguments can be found in the references (see end of this document).

 

Arguments to Preserve Tilted Arc

Artist Richard Serra

My name is Richard Serra and I am an American sculptor.

I don't make portable objects. I don't make works that can be relocated or site adjusted. I make works that deal with the environmental components of given places. The scale, size, and location of my site-specific works are determined by the topography of the site, whether it be urban, landscape, or an architectural enclosure. My works become party of and are built into the structure of the site, and they often restructure, both conceptually and perceptually, the organization of the site.

My sculptures are not objects for the viewer to stop and stare at. The historical purpose of placing sculpture on a pedestal was to establish a separation between the sculpture and the viewer. I am interested in creating a behavioral space in which the viewer interacts with the sculpture in its context.

One's identity as a person is closely connected with one's experience of space and place. When a known space is changed through the inclusion of a site-specific sculpture, one is called upon to related to the space differently. This is a condition that can be engendered only by sculpture. This experience of space may startle some people.

When the government invited me to propose a sculpture for the plaza it asked for a permanent, site-specific sculpture. As the phrase implies, a site-specific sculpture is one that is conceived and created in relation to the particular conditions of a specific site, and only to those conditions.

To remove Tilted Arc, therefore, would be to destroy it . . .

It has been suggested that the public did not choose to install the work in the first place. In fact, the choice of the artist and the decision to install the sculpture permanently in the plaza were made by a public entity: The GSA. Its determination was made on the basis of national standards and carefully formulated procedures, and a jury system ensured impartiality and the selection of art of lasting value.

The selection of this sculpture was, therefore, made by, and on behalf of, the public.

The agency made its commitments and signed a contract. If its decision is reversed in response to pressure from outside sources, the integrity of governmental programs related to the arts will be compromised, and artists of integrity will not participate. If the government can destroy works of art when confronted with such pressure, its capacity to foster artistic diversity and its power to safeguard freedom of creative expression will be in jeopardy.

Fred Hoffman

I am an art historian and curator of contemporary art associated with many of the leading cultural organizations in Los Angeles.

We can learn more about ourselves, about the nature of our social relations, and about the nature of the spaces we inhabit and depend upon by keeping Tilted Arc than we ever could by languishing in the alleged pleasures of a Serra-less plaza.

One of the fundamental realities about an important work of art such as Tilted Arc is that it does not simply sit down, roll over, and play dead. This work does not have as its intention pleasing, entertaining, or pacifying. By structuring an experience that is continually active, dynamic, and expansive, Tilted Arc makes sure that we do not fall asleep, mindless and indifferent to our destiny and to the increasing scarcity of freedom in an increasingly banal, undifferentiated, and style-oriented world . . .

William Rubin

I am director of the Department of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art.

Like many creations of modern art, Tilted Arc is a challenging work that obliges us to question received values in general and the nature of art and of art's relation to the public in particular.

About one hundred years ago the Impressionists and post-Impressionists (Monet, Gauguin, Cézanne, for example), artists whose works are today prized universally, were being reviled as ridiculous by the public and the established press. At about the same time, the Eiffel Tower was constructed, only to be greeted by much the same ridicule. Leading architects of the day as well as writers and philosophers, to say nothing of the man on the street, condemned the tower as a visual obscenity.

As these examples suggest, truly challenging works of art require a period of time before their artistic language can be understood by a broader public.

I must say that I have never heard of a decision to remove a public monument being settled by popular vote. If that is what is being contemplated here, it seems to me a most dangerous precedent. Moreover, the decision should, it seems to me, involve the sentiments of a much wider circle than simply those who work in the immediate neighborhood. For society as a whole has a stake in such works of art.

Certainly the consideration of any such move should not be a response to pressure tactics and, above all, should not take place before the sculpture's artistic language can become familiar.

I therefore propose that a consideration of this issue be deferred for at least ten years.

Joel Kovel

I am a writer and a professor at the New School for Social Research.

This very hearing proves the subversiveness, and hence the value, of Tilted Arc. Its very tilt and rust remind us that the gleaming and heartless steel and glass structures of the state apparatus can one day pass away. It therefore creates an unconscious sense of opposition and hope.

This opposition is itself a creative act, as, indeed, this hearing is a creative act. I would submit that the true measure of a free and democratic society is that it permits opposition of this sort. Therefore, it is essential that this hearing result in the preservation of Serra's work as a measure of the opposition this society can tolerate.

Donald Judd [sculptor]

We need to revive a secular version of sacrilege to categorize the attempt to destroy Richard Serra's work in Federal Plaza in Manhattan.

Art is not to be destroyed, either old or new. It is visible civilization. Those who want to ruin Serra's work are barbarians . . .

Holly Solomon

I have a gallery in SoHo and now I've moved to Fifty-seventh Street. I don't feel qualified to discuss the law part of this and I don't feel I have time to discuss the taste or the art historical importance of this piece. I can only tell you, gentlemen, that this is business, and to take down the piece is bad business. Mr. Serra is one of the leading sculptors of our time. I sell many paintings. I try very hard to teach people about contemporary art, but the bottom line is that this has financial value, and you really have to understand that you have a responsibility to the financial community. You cannot destroy property.

Frank Stella [painter]

In the matter under discussion here the government and the artist, Richard Serra, have acted in good faith and have executed their responsibilities in exemplary fashion.

The objections to their efforts are without compelling merit. The objections are singular, peculiar, and idiosyncratic. The government and the artist have acted as the body of society attempting to meet civilized, one might almost say civilizing, goals&emdash;in this case, the extension of visual culture into public spaces.

The attempt to reverse their efforts serves no broad social purpose and is contrary to the honest, searching efforts that represent the larger and truer goals of society.

Satisfaction for the dissenters is not a necessity. The continued cultural aspirations of the society are a necessity, as is the protection of these aspirations.

The dissenters have accomplished enough by having their objections heard, discussed, and publicized. Whatever merit their case may have, it is not part of the public record and will have its proper influence in future decisions involving matters of this kind.

To destroy the work of art and simultaneously incur greater public expense in that effort would disturb the status quo for no gain. Furthermore, the precedent set can only have wasteful and unnecessary consequences.

There is no reason to encourage harassment of the government and the artist working toward a public good. There are no circumstances here to warrant further administrative or judicial action. If the matter stands as it is, no one will experience any serious harm or duress and one more work of art will be preserved.

This dispute should not be allowed to disrupt a successful working relationship between government agencies and citizen artists.

Finally, no public dispute should force the gratuitous destruction of any benign, civilizing effort.

More arguments can be found in the references (see end of this document).

The Question

Did the public and government officials have the right to dictate the removal of a public sculpture commissioned and contracted for with government funds? On the one hand, the community who had to live with the sculpture (and who indirectly paid for it through public funds) was not consulted in the selection of artist or artwork. The work was, according to many, confrontational and at the very least, imposing. On the other hand, the artist had been duly selected and contracted by a panel of art experts and a government approved process. He met the stipulations of his contract. Moreover, most art professionals believe that public art is and must be challenging and that if the public is the guardian of what is selected for public art, the sphere of what will be shown will be severely narrowed and much contemporary (and thus less accepted) art styles will be censored.

Final Summary

Over 180 people testified at the three day hearing held in March 1985, more than 120 of whom vehemently supported Tilted Arc's retention. The panel voted 4:1 for the removal of the sculpture.

The final decision was made by Dwight Ink, acting administrator of the GSA in May of 1985 that the sculpture would be moved; he left the decision process for the new location to the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency specifically charged with nurturing and fostering the arts in the U.S.

Dwight Ink, in his decision, wrote that

1. he rejected physically destroying Tilted Arc because "regardless of the artwork's limited acceptance by nonartists," destruction is "not compatible with a free society which prides itself on encouraging free expression."

2. He felt that the concerns of the workers must be considered, particularly since housing employees in public service is a primary mission of the GSA, and therefore "the regional administrator should seek a new location for the Arc where it would not suffer significant loss of integrity; where it can be better understood and appreciated; and where it would be a less vulnerable target for graffiti." He asked that the National Endowment for the Arts review alternative locations and consult with Serra and members of the arts community as well as community representatives.

3. That the Arc would remain in place while alternative locations were sought and that information about the sculpture to help explain its concept should be placed near the Federal Plaza doors.

4. That guidelines for selecting future artworks under the Arts-in-Architecture program should be modified to include:

a. integration with the architectural concept for public buildings;

b. participation by the local community and by architects in the selection of both artist and artwork;

c. attend to the impact of the proposed art on the employees of the building and the public;

d. expand the participation of NEA experts in GSA Arts-in-Architecture programs.

5. That future decisions regarding Art-in-Architecture programs should follow the recommendation of the 1980 Task Force on the Art-in-Architecture Program, except that the architect-engineer prescribed in the recommendations should be a voting member of any panel.

6. That the GSA Regional Administrator [Diamond] should explore several low-cost options for improving the environmental character of the Federal Plaza whether or not Tilted Arc was moved. (Weyergraf-Serra & Bushkirk, 158-160)

Upon hearing of the decision to remove Tilted Arc, Serra sued the government and Diamond and Ink for punitive damages: $40 (or $30&emdash;varying accounts) million for a violation of his contract (since under current U.S. law, he had no right to appeal the removal or destruction of his piece). He claimed that to relocate the work was to destroy it and that part of his contract was that the work would be given permanency. His lawyer, Gustave Harrow, chose not to sue over First Amendment rights&emdash;which seemed too tenuous. The government contended that relocation would not constitute a breach of contract and that as owner of the work, the GSA could do with it what it liked. August, 1987 Judge Milton Pollack of the US district Court in Manhattan dismissed Serra's suit against the GSA, ruling his court did not have jurisdiction to adjudicate the case and rejecting Serra's claims that his First and Fifth Amendment rights had been violated.

The hostility with which Tilted Arc was greeted might, according to many experts, have been predicted since the Art-in-Architecture Program did not follow its own guidelines for installation of public sculpture. These procedures mandate "introductory" programs for community groups to enhance their understanding of commissioned works, and generally require that considerable local public relations work be done in advance of any installation. Efforts to educate the public both before and after the installation of Tilted Arc were basically nonexistent. A small scale model of the artwork was displayed in the lobby of the Javits Building before its installation: the model gave little real notion of the size and impact of the full piece. A pole-and-string stake-out of the piece on the Plaza itself also failed to give an accurate impression of the mass and solidity of the artwork. Finally, when opposition to the piece was voiced after its installation, no educational efforts were made.

The GSA and the NEA during the 1970s repeatedly discussed the need for community involvement in making decisions about sculptural installations. A particularly difficult record exists concerning local acceptance of cor-ten steel works, and moreover, especially those installed in congested areas. In the case of Titled Arc, the "community" was identified as art cognoscenti rather than workers in buildings surrounding Federal Plaza and community residents in areas adjacent to the plaza.

It is alleged that Tilted Arc did not disrupt normal pedestrian traffic patterns&emdash;the shortest routes to the streets from the building were unobstructed. But it did implant itself within the public's field of vision. It moreover commanded attention. In reorienting the use of Federal Plaza from a place of traffic control to a sculptural place, Serra "uses sculpture to hold . . . [the] site hostage, to insist upon the necessity for art to fulfill its own functions rather than those relegated to it by" its functions. "For this reason, Tilted Arc . . . [was] considered an aggressive and egotistical work, with which Serra place[d] his own aesthetic assumptions above the needs and desires of the people who must live with his work." On the other hand, Nelson Rockefeller, who established the model for public arts based on his model of the New York Council of the Arts, equated American artists with American individualism and the ability of the artist "to contribute to society as a whole through free use of his [or her] individual gifts in . . .[an] individual manner" (ACA, 7). Contemporary artwriter Douglas Crimp has argued that,

our society is fundamentally constructed upon the principle of egotism, the needs of each individual coming into conflict with those of all other individuals, Serra's work does nothing other than present us with the truth of our social consition. . . [we share a] belief that all individuals are unique but can exist in harmony with one another by assenting to the benign regulation of the state . . . the artist is expected to play a leading role, offering a unique 'private sensibility' in a manner properly universalized so as to ensure feelings of harmony" (Krauss, 53-55).

Moreover, most art professionals in the art world believe that public art is and must be challenging.

While Storm King Arts Center indicated "They would be delighted to receive Tilted Arc" in December, 1984, they did not want to install it against the wishes of its creator and that it would accept the piece only with the artist's consent. The work remains in storage.

Art critic Robert Storr criticizes Serra for his "failure to deal directly&emdash;much less, generously&emdash;with his least articulate but most important adversaries&emdash;that is, those who on a daily basis must live with his work" as a kind of elitism and arrogance (p. 281).

 

References

ACA Books,.Public Art/ Public Controversy: The Tilted Arc on Trial (NY: American Council for the Arts Books, 1987).

Battin, Margaret P.; Fisher, John; Moore, Ronald; & Silvers, Anita. "Critical Judgment: The Dispute over Tilted Arc." Chapter in Puzzles about art. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Krauss, Rosalind E. Richard Serra/ Sculpture. Edited and with an introduction by Laura Rosenstock. NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 1986.

Storr, Robert, "Tilted Arc: Enemy of the People?" In Arlene Raven (Ed.), Art in the Public Interest , 269-285. (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1989).

Weyergraf-Serra, Clara & Martha Bushkirk (Eds.). The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991).