1 David W. Dunlap, "In City Canyons, Slivers of Public Space Erode," New York Times, Thursday, 28 September 2000, Metropolitan Desk.
2 This is a species that is reliant on the complex web of support that only its environment can provide. If this very specific set of conditions is threatened, these fragile species are the first to show stress. The spotted owl is an indicator species because its diminished numbers were said to indicate the ill health of the entire Northwest old-growth forest system.
3 Chave uses these terms to describe minimalist work in her essay, "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power," Arts Magazine (January 1990): 53.
4 Tony Smith, "Talking with Tony Smith," interview by Samual Wagstaff Jr., Artforum (December 1966): 18-19.
5 Anna C. Chave, "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power," Arts Magazine (January 1990): 53. 6 Warren Roberts, Revolutionary Artists, (New York: State University of New York Press, 2000). Robert's discussion of the role of open urban space in forming public thought and its importance to the creation of modern democracy is telling.
Police riot, Chicago 1968 Democratic Convention
Martin Luther King speaking on Washington Mall
Columbia University protests, 1968
Frank Gehry, Millenium Park, Chicago
WWII memorial National Mall, Washington DC
Daniel Burren's installation at Gugenheim
Daniel Burren's installation at Gugenheim
Union Square, May 1, 1937
Union Square, Auguest 29, 2004
Union Square, "war-meeting" May 4, 1863
Taj Mahal cenotaphs
Rachel Whiteread, Trafalgar Square London, Plinth on plinth action!
A. Rodin, Balzac
Rosalind Krauss, "open field" schematic
A. Rodin, Burghers of Calais plaster mock-up on scafold
Rodin with depilated bust of his father
A. Rodin, Burghers of Calais
New Yorkers terring down statue of George the III
Hans Bellmer Doll
Robert Morris Untitled (two columns) 1961
Arkadian victory stele
Eisenstein, October, film still of Czar's statue being destroyed
Dutch public flattening work of Evert Strobose, Graffitti not shown: "Alles moet plat" ('Everything must [go] flat')
Demolition of the Bastille
Goya, 1814-17, "No sabe que hace"
Cartoon br Serguei, Le Monde (Sept. 1990)
Maya Lin, Vietnam War Memorial
Maya Lin, Vietnam War Memorial
M. Duchamp, Small Glass
Anish Kapoor "Cloud Gate" 2004 Millenium Park, Chicago
Brancusi, Inceputul lumii ( 1924?)
Nuremberg Marching Grounds
Nuremberg Marching Grounds
Nuremberg Marching Grounds
Nuremberg Marching Grounds
Richard Serra, One Ton Prop (House of Cards), 1969
Richard Serra, Tilted Arc, 1981 Federal Plaza, New York
Federal Plaza, New York 1989
Federal Plaza, New York 1999
Federal Plaza, New York detail
Night time destruction of Tilted Arc, March 1989
Night time destruction of Tilted Arc, March 1989
Hans Hacke, Germania 1993
Krzysztof Wodiczko, The Homeless Projection: A Proposal for the city of New York, George Washington Monument, Union Square
Destruction of Tilted Arc, March 1989
Federal Plaza, 1989
The National Mall in Washington DC
The Downtown waterfront, New York
WWII Memorial Proposal
WWII memorial National Mall, Washington DC
General Post Office on 8th Ave., its adjacent rail yards, New York
Penn Station Proposal
Penn Station Proposal
Downtown Guggenheim Proposal
Downtown Guggenheim Proposal
Common ground, an unrestricted physical place in which to move, is a rare part of civic life today. The public demonstrations of the 1960s took place in vast urban spaces. In 1968 masses of protesters moved unhampered in Chicago until the police riots; tens of thousands were able to stand together and listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C.; university quads around the country were the seedbeds of various mass movements. However, spaces like these, that became uncontrollable for authorities, have been partitioned and/or filled in. University quads were the first to go; there are very few large quads left anywhere in the U.S. The site on the Mall in Washington, D.C., that accommodated the freedom marchers is slated for division by a stepped plaza, and Grant Park in Chicago, where protesters first gathered in 1968 is getting a major facelift that includes massive architectural and landscaping changes. The decorative planters, benches, fences, and berms that now crowd these spaces are seemingly neutral devices used by urban planners to slow or completely prevent mass movements, both figuratively and literally. Green space and public seating are accepted universally both culturally and politically as features that add "humanity" to otherwise intense urban settings. However, these decorative elements should be judged not only by what they add but also by what they displace. These ubiquitous embellishments to urban spaces act aggressively and invisibly on our common life by girding, breaking, and otherwise impeding freedom of movement.
Additionally, the lack of areas free of prescribed activities or private control is a disastrous collective loss. The past forty years have witnessed an increasing privatization of public space. In New York alone, over eighty acres of contained and privately controlled "public space" has been created, displacing the unrestricted public space that might otherwise have been maintained.  Open ground is difficult to control and arduous to maintain in an urban setting, but it is precisely these characteristics that distinguish it as the indicator species2 of city life. The failure of these spaces is a symptom of a common life in danger.
What if art were capable of "seizing" and "occupying"3 areas of the city without filling them in? The possibility was raised by Tony Smith in a celebrated interview where he spoke of art as "an artificial landscape without precedent."4 Smith felt that the incomplete New Jersey Turnpike, which he explored on a famous midnight drive, foreshadowed such an art. However, as art historian Anna Chave has been quick to point out, Smith also alludes to the Nuremburg marching grounds as providing such a prospect. In "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power" Chave denounces Smith for advocating the loaded image of the Nazi drilling ground "without considering what constellation of forces might lead to the erection of comparable sites in the United States."5
This debate frames a dilemma. Should we condemn public space out of fear, or should we open it up in order to show confidence in the benefits of mass assembly? Since the Vietnam War protests, which were accompanied by brutal police repression across the country, urban planners have emphatically opted for the former. One only has to look at the Tompkins and Washington Square Parks in New York City, both broken up by landscaping and decorative fences, to see how they have become casualties of those social forces.
The changes our cities have undergone since Smith made his call for a vast new American art give his words new relevance and political import. Keeping in mind Chave's reservations, perhaps it is time to reexamine Smith's concept of art as something vast. I assert that one should not confuse open space with the very different uses to which it can be put. There is nothing inherently fascist about open civic space. Nor is there any reason to believe that its appearance would signal a revival of martial displays and state-sponsored triumphalism. I argue for a concept of open space as "contentious" and suggest that to seize and then occupy large uninterrupted space has become an important, difficult, and positive role that monumental civic art is uniquely prepared to enact.
To frame my argument, I will refer to Anna Chave's influential essay, mentioned above, along with three public works by Rachel Whiteread, Maya Lin, and Richard Serra. Over and beyond her remarks on Smith, Chave has mounted a far-reaching critique of minimalist art in general and developed a rigorous set of terms with which to interrogate what she calls the "visual rhetoric" of the minimalist aesthetic. She considers the meaning of minimalism's use of industrial materials and processes, as well as its weight and scale, its formal resemblance to certain architectural models associated with fascism, and its disregard for the comfort and well-being of its audience. I would like to offer a counterweight to this position. Whereas Chave characterizes minimalism as authoritarian and oppressive, I believe that work employing the minimalist visual rhetoric is interesting precisely because of its relationship to authority and domination. The three sites addressed in this paper, London's Trafalgar Square, the Mall in Washington, D.C., and Federal Plaza in New York, have a history of grassroots public protest. By discussing these works through the lens of Chave's critique, I hope to describe an art that is civic space. This is not to say that any one of these artists alone fulfills the promise of Smith's vast art but all three deal with contentious ground. While acknowledging Chave's critique of minimalism's identification with authority, I would maintain that the precedent for all civic art is the official art of ancient autarchy. Because these three artists engage this inheritance, they allow a discussion of what a vast civic art will have to contend with in order to appear. New solutions for social and political issues no doubt will best emerge, as they have in the past, in the swirling confusion of an unimpeded crowd.6 Civic art that maintains an awareness of its relationship to authority and that uses its authority to hold open contested ground is not in itself repressive. Rather, it calls our attention to an authority capable of taking an oppressive shape and provides room to measure and, if necessary, act en masse to shift the weight of that authority.
You must not make gods of silver to rival me, nor must you make yourselves gods of gold...
If you make me an altar of stone, do not build it of dressed stones; for if you use a chisel on it, you will profane it.
You must not go up to my altar by steps, in case you expose your nakedness on them.
- Exodus 20,23; 25-26
Like her past work, Rachel Whiteread's project for Trafalgar Square in London will be an object cast in clear resin. The object she has proposed to reproduce is one of two monumental pedestals, or plinths, designed in 1841 for Trafalgar Square by Victorian architect Charles Barry. These large, dressed stones were originally intended to support a pair of heroic equestrian statues. Instead, the northeast plinth supports a bronze of George IV that was erected in 1843. Due to lack of funds, the second work (probably another figure of George the IV) was never executed, and the monument has remained empty for over 150 years. The empty plinth's decorative flourishes are unremarkable; they are appropriate for the conventions of the times and the importance of the personage it was intended to support. Whiteread plans to cast a translucent, life-size copy of the empty plinth and turn her resin doppelgaenger upside down atop the stone original. She modestly describes this action as inserting a "pause" in a busy plaza. She will in effect be reproducing, symbolizing, and negating the plinth in a single gesture.
Whiteread's proposal has strong visual and procedural ties to minimalism. With an economy of means she has recast the meaning of a defining historical moment with special importance for minimalist art: Rodin's removal of the plinth from his monuments to Balzac and the Burghers of Calais. Rodin's removal of the plinth is one of the decisive turning points in modern art and an important precedent for minimalist practice. Within the discourse of minimalism, the removal of the plinth is characterized as a formal breakthrough, a matter of making the medium of sculpture more clearly concerned with itself as a discrete art form. But although Whiteread employs a minimalist visual rhetoric, it would be a mistake to interpret her work within the frame of minimalist formal innovation. Her new work will celebrate the social function of sculpture as marker, and in so doing engage a very different aspect of the removal of the plinth than either modernist or minimalist art has done. Whiteread's work will highlight the removal of the plinth as an act critical of concretized authority.
Rosalind Krauss has evaluated the importance of Rodin's gesture in the canon of modern art. In her 1979 essay "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," Krauss positions Rodin at the beginning of modernist sculpture because he removed the plinth from his (1891-98) monument to Balzac . According to Krauss, we find in Balzac for the first time the sense of alienation and mobility that characterizes modernism. Krauss chose the memorial for Balzac because it was refused by those commissioned it, which therefore made the work "siteless." Rodin had, by her account, made a siteless sculpture disengaged from its memorial function, creating what she terms "an absolute loss of place." Because Whiteread's new work will engage with and negate a particular, "sited" plinth, it will exist as a different art, an art that exploits traditional social function, upsetting and exposing historic structures that modernism and minimalism left unexamined. What is important about Whiteread's work is not its "mobility" but rather its criticism of the authority represented by the actual, historical plinth.
Predating Balzac and actually marking the shift in Rodin's practice was his commission from the town of Calais. With the Burghers of Calais (1885-95) Rodin acted against sculpture in a manner that was interpreted as implicitly disrespectful of authority. The people of Calais commissioned the monument at a time of heightened nationalism in France: the French had recently lost territory to the Germans, and the town's leaders wanted to resurrect a past moment of glory. They chose an event that took place in 1347. The English had demanded that the richest men in the city, the burghers, offer themselves as hostages in order to end a disastrous siege on the town. Rodin's sculpture was to memorialize these heroic, patriotic ancestors of the city's present fathers. But almost immediately Rodin abandoned his original composition of heroism. The maquette had included a massively high plinth and positioned the burghers in a phalanx, resolutely marching out to meet their fate. Instead, Rodin chose to show them as a confused and disordered mass. Rather than seeking heroic gesture, he revealed each man's individuated terror and suffering. The choice to remove the plinth from beneath the burghers and thus drop them into the common field of experienced space was not arrived at lightly. Photographs taken at the time show a life-size mock-up of the work assembled atop a high scaffold, replicating how the work would look on its plinth. Only after these pains did the sculptor decide that the work should be placed at ground level.
8 Rodin's earliest work is a portrait of his father, Jean-Baptiste Rodin. It was completed while the artist was a student and still living at home. This bust is an important indicator of Rodin's later intentions as a mature artist. Rodin chose to sculpt his father but not to include the old man's beard--an omission his father resented. The senior Rodin must have understood the removal of his beard was a threat to his authority. See Grunfeld, p. 36, for a discussion of the bust and the removal of the beard.
10 Robert Morris, "Notes on Sculpture II," Artforum (October 1966). Reprinted in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkley: Dutton & Co., 1968).
11 T. J. Mitchell, Iconology (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987).
12 Thierry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge: October Books, MIT Press, 1998).
The fetish's strong correlation to the intimate makes it a less-than-satisfactory lens through which to view the relationship of Whiteread's plinth to its audience. Thus, I would like to propose an alternative metaphor: the stele . Perhaps one of the most ancient conventionalized forms of art, steles are predated only by the freeform art of Neolithic people. There is nothing freeform about the steles, however; they look every bit like formalized gravestones. They are freestanding, upright, oblong stone slabs often inscribed with pattern or relief. Steles were markers, and as such they held the surrounding area as their own. As public objects that expressed their relationship to a domineering, often brutal authority, steles set the stage for all Western art engaged in a public mode of address. All the trappings that would accompany power and domination for the next six millennia are already in place: hierarchical scaling and composition, idealized and individualized monarchs, ordered groups of men easily recognizable as armies. Finally (and most tellingly, in light of the fact that the steles were made by a culture that relied chiefly on mud and brick) these stones were carved in the hardest, most durable material their makers could find: massive, unitary slabs of stone. These telltale conventions of authority are a quotidian presence within the traditions of art, so much so that they are almost invisible to us.
16 Rosalind Krauss, "Sculpture in the Expanded Field," (1979), reprinted in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster (New York: The New Press, 1998).
17 Hal Foster, Return of Real (Cambridge: October Books, MIT Press,1996).
It would be a mistake, therefore, to view Whiteread's proposal for Trafalgar Square as a solipsistic inversion. She will transform an empty plinth into a stele. What had been built to hold the figure of a monarch above question will be completed in a manner that upends that original intention and exposes the nakedness of that conceit. Whiteread's work will not be ambivalent to history, nor will it be unrealistic about the possibility of altering the vast cultural landscape into which she is introducing her voice. By means of metaphor, metonym, and metamorphosis, Whiteread's work will actively engage the inheritance of cultural authority and seek to alter its structure.
"Why not put the work outside and further change the terms?"
- Robert Morris
Making use of minimalist visual rhetoric in a surprising way, Maya Lin's Vietnam Veterans' Memorial is a polished, black-granite triangular cut in the earth . The cut is made so the two walls of the memorial reflect the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument respectively. The reflective stone faces of the cut are inscribed with the names of the 58,209 American men and women who died in the Vietnam War; the names appear chronologically, in order of the date of casualty. The list of names begins and ends at the deepest section of the memorial, where the two walls meet: if one were to read the list from beginning to end one would be led out of the memorial along one wall and then back in again along the other. The center of the cut is its deepest point and thus carries the greatest concentration of names. The Veterans' Memorial, Lin honored the veterans and their families while preserving the horizontal grade of the Mall as an important symbolic space for our democracy.
18 Maya Lin, "Untitled Statements" (1983), reprinted in Theories and Documents of Modern Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings, ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkley: University of California Press, 1996).
19 Thierry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge: October Books, MIT Press, 1998). "Art does not address itself to the masses but rather to an individual, and the work of art, whatever it is, chooses its viewers one at a time. However, once the spectator falls into this viewing trap, it is another viewer that he sees looking at him or whom he sees looking. There the viewers are always double; following Lacan, we might say that the individual viewer gets split there. It is to an Other that his gaze is addressed and from an Other that it comes back to him. . . . Art takes place in the fourth dimension. . . ."
20 Maya Lin, "Untitled Statements" (1983), reprinted in Theories and Documents of Modern Art: A Sourcebook of Artists' Writings, ed. Kristine Stiles & Peter Selz (Berkley: University of California Press, 1996).
22 Anna C. Chave, "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power," Arts Magazine (January 1990): 49.
23 Ibid., 44.
In Lin's work the viewer's experience is in no way discrete. The wall of names is intended to dissolve into a mirror. As Lin has remarked, "The point is to see yourself reflected in the names."18 Likewise, as Thierry de Duve describes in Kant after Duchamp, Marcel Duchamp's installation of Small Glass begins as a "viewing trap" but then extends beyond the sterile experience of selfsame within which viewers of the fetish hold themselves to become something far richer .19 This is the experience of the Veterans' Memorial. It is to see past the names toward one's own reflection--to fall into a viewing trap--but then to recognize another person standing beside one's image engaged in a similar act of looking. This mirroring of the memorial's granite faces precludes an isolated or disinterested gaze. Any pretense of cool distance dissolves into the complexity of the heterogeneous group. We are confronted by meanings that are not our own in the faces that are reflected alongside our own. We are sensitized to our immersion within a contentious, negotiated field of meaning, and particularly to our relationship to power, not simply as a matter of relations between discrete individuals, but to authority on an immense scale. No matter what our politics are, war is an instance of power enacted upon us not as individuals but as parts of an undifferentiated mass.
"The monument may lack an American flag, but you're surrounded by America, by the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. I don't design pure objects like those,"20 says Lin. For Lin's art to succeed, no position can be held as special, free of criticism, discrete, or outside discourse. In her statement, Lin flatly asserts, "I work with the landscape, and I hope that the object and the land are equal players."21 Site and object are far easier to claim as undifferentiated in a work like this. But the memorial goes even further, willfully confusing itself with the mass of its audience. Lin's decision to allow only a single flag, offsite, and to exclude any other indications of state authority makes this work's and its audience's relationship to power a crucial part of its meaning. The memorial invokes not the kind of unambiguous relationship fostered by traditional representations of superiority but rather a contingent relationship to authority--one riddled with ambiguity.
Part of the way Chave frames minimalism's engagement with power and authority is as violence done on the conventions of art. It is by way of these formal means that she feels minimalism exhibits a ruthlessness towards its audience, "perpetrating a kind of cultural terrorism, forcing viewers into the role of victim."22 For Chave the familiar, conventional elements of art cushion and protect the viewer. Her reasoning is that by stripping the object of mediating conventions, the minimalists exposed the "architecture of autarchy." Chave feels that the disobliging look of minimalism--"the authority implicit in the identity of the materials and shapes the artists used, as well as in the scale and often the weight of their objects"--is an indication of its complicity with the harsh militancy of the dominant culture of the 1960s. "The minimalists' domineering, sometimes brutal rhetoric was breached in this country in the 1960s, a decade of brutal displays of power by both the American military in Vietnam, and the police at home in the streets and on university campuses across the country."23
For Chave this form of representation of power in art is extraordinary only because we are unused to seeing authoritarian power bared and unmediated. If we play out Chave's argument, art's conventions are not meant to disperse or dispense with authority, but rather simply to soothe us in its presence. But if the conventional elements of art are "the relations of power involved in enunciation and reception"--relations that "sustain the hierarchies of communication"--then those conventions also connect us to traditional values, ancient "ideological constructions" that uphold and sustain domination and mastery. These conventions are indelibly linked to an inheritance of the systematic oppression that has characterized most cultural history. However, although we are linked to that history and those conventions, we are not obliged to leave them intact.
25 Anna C. Chave, "Minimalism and the Rhetoric of Power," Arts Magazine (January 1990): 44.
The immediately positive public reaction to the memorial, despite Congress's protests, demands explanation. Lin's reductivist critique was indeed disrespectful to the authority of the memorial as an instance of the state's official face and voice. By excising all traditional indications of "enunciation and reception,"25 Lin refused to dictate meaning, leaving that task to her audience. She thereby engaged authority in a manner that altered its functioning. Lin received support from those who had been touched by the war as well as the veterans themselves not in spite of the confusion and ambivalence toward the power her work presents, but rather because of that confusion and ambivalence. Her work displays authority, but it displays it in a way that allows it to be contested and negotiated.
Lin's work acts critically within its official role as memorial; it upsets not only our notions of how a memorial should function, but also and more importantly how official art functions in general. Until recently all monuments have been objects. In opposition to this tradition, the Veterans' Memorial is in many ways invisible; indeed, if the visitor does not have a map, he or she may never find it. Set in the landscape itself, the memorial preserves the mall as an unbroken space--and does this at a time when the Mall is being crowded with monuments and is set to be further divided by a massive new World War II memorial. Occupying this kind of space--seizing it and holding it open and uninterrupted--should be valued in its own right. Work that successfully accomplishes this task reflects on the significance of power rather than displays it.
28 Mike Kelly, "Public Art Controversy: The Serra and Lin Cases," The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, vol. 54 (Winter 1996): 15.
"I think of art in a public context and not in terms of mobility of works of art."27
- Tony Smith
In 1981 Richard Serra erected his Tilted Arc . Ten years later, after a lengthy legal battle, the work was destroyed. Chave documents these events as part of her critique on minimalist work: "In its site on Federal Plaza in lower Manhattan, Richard Serra's mammoth, perilously tilted, steel arc formed a barrier too tall to see over (12 feet), and a protracted trip to walk around (120 feet). In the severity of its material, the austerity of its form and in its gargantuan size, it served almost as a grotesque amplification of minimalism's power rhetoric." She also criticizes Richard Serra personally, characterizing him as a bully contemptuous of his audience. Chave condemns the testimony of Tilted Arc's proponents as elitist and insensitive, an attitude she believes is typical of the entire minimalist project. Her interpretation of the Tilted Arc hearings paints a picture of a rarified art world up against the interests of working people and democratic process.
Chave believes that Serra and his allies failed to prevent the destruction of Tilted Arc because the work was callous and wrongheaded in nature. She suggests that the public acted to expel a dehumanizing and antiegalitarian intrusion from its space. However, the failed defense of Tilted Arc had the virtue of exposing the legal and popular misunderstandings about what art is doing in public space at all. The popular understanding of public art is that it is nothing more than a decorative commodity. The New York Supreme Court agreed with this view by deciding that " (a) Serra's free-speech rights were not violated because he relinquished them voluntarily when he sold Tilted Arc to the [General Services Administration] and (b) that again, the GSA's decision was content neutral since its concern was to restore public space, not restrict individual artistic expression."28 I believe the court was wrong on both counts. It may seem odd to think of a huge steel barrier as opening up space, but that is what Tilted Arc did. Far from being a decorative commodity, the Tilted Arc represented a spectacular land grab. For the ten years this sculpture stood in the Federal Plaza, it held far more than its fair share of ground and its detractors made much of the inconvenient walk around it . However, the fact remains that it seized and occupied more open space than it displaced in a manner that gave the work an analytical and critical function that was never understood by the courts.
30 Ibid., 18.
31 Hal Foster, "The Un/making of Sculpture," in October Files: Richard Serra, ed. Hal Foster (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2000).
* The title of the show was originally the same as the above essay. Because the work is presented here a single document and because I have decided to enlarge on the three original projects I have changed the title.
* Anyone who took part in the New York protests against the Iraq War or against the RNC will understand the value of a large uninterrupted space free of traffic, and delicate plantings.
The author would like to thank Tifenn Aubert, Philip Glahn, Dru Oja Jay, Nell McClister, Robert Powers, Paul Rodgers, Casey Ruble, and Robert Stack for their support and patience. Without their help this entire project would not have been possible.
Given the conditions that led to the destruction of the Tilted Arc, Serra's critique of sculpture's public role as decorative has been vindicated. His effort to protect his art as an instance of public speech could not have succeeded within the kind of space in which the Tilted Arc was erected. The plaza "was deemed a 'limited public forum' where restrictions on speech are allowed so long as they are content neutral."30 The one percent of construction budgets set aside for public art is legitimized by the presumption that art offers more than the "decorative function" Serra was at odds with. Presumably it is art's critical function that legitimizes its public role. If it has no critical function, "one percent for the arts" might just as well be spent on plantings, marble floors, and impressive light fixtures. There would be no need to involve the artist. Creating the context demanded by the Tilted Arc can only happen if that context is understood to have positive political value.
Chave's reading of minimalism holds artists accountable for their relationship to power. Her reading demands that these relationships be critical of domination and abuse. She emphasizes the importance of recognizing a lineage of visual rhetoric (like the more geometric Classicism of Roman imperial architecture adopted by the fascists) linked to the worst excesses of power. However, if art is to provide a space that permits complex relationships, artists will have to engage with authority. Serra's work involves a complex address and an ambiguous relationship to power. Serra also subscribes to the view that "the biggest break in the history of sculpture in twentieth century occurred when the pedestal was removed," dropping sculpture into the "behavioral space"31 --not the perceptual space--of the viewer. The behavioral space outside of a federal courthouse is more then a resting place for office workers, it is a powerfully symbolic space attractive to people with grievances to air.
The Tilted Arc was not a vast space but it does represent one small step, together with missteps, toward creating a new relationship between civic art and architecture, and between civic art and its urban audience. Serra wanted Tilted Arc to be freestanding art broken from its decorative role as ancillary to existing architecture, an art that instead could hold a space all its own. That, finally, is what a stele is: an architectural equivalent. Whereas architecture holds space by enclosure that controls movement, and the archaic stele achieved this same end by enclosing space within the highly conventionalized symbolic realm of autarchy, Serra sought to hold ground free of all enclosure. Art that by means of an ambivalent rhetoric of power occupies large open space that is meant to be inhabited by a roving audience has the capability of altering the urban landscape in powerful and positive ways. Such an approach to sculpture has an opportunity to safely reopen negotiated space, providing a physical setting in which to test the challenging values of urban democracy.
America today is best characterized as horror-vacui, giving rise to the desire to fill cites with heroic enclosures. This ambition is leading us towards an urban landscape of commercial malls, stadiums, and museums, which increasingly double as public space. These consumer destinations preordain activity and tightly control public use. The three sites chosen for this show are the General Post Office on 8th Ave., its adjacent rail yards, and the downtown waterfront here in New York; and the National Mall in Washington, D.C. All are public lands that will be substantially changed by development within the next decade. The post office is to be remodeled as a flashy new Penn Station and the yards are the most likely site for Mayor Giuliani's long hoped for stadium complex. The Guggenheim plans to build a forty-story signature exhibition space on the Lower Manhattan waterfront. The National Mall is to host a disputed, but inevitable, privately funded WWII memorial that will physically and symbolically sever the historic connection between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
The three counter-proposals presented here for these sites represent development plans for our public lands with very different aims. Far more than arrangements for destination shopping or mass entertainment, these proposals are efforts to imagine places for the people of an active creative city to enjoy opportunities to move en mass.
The vast interior of the original Penn Station was intended to evoke awe in those arriving into New York and to embody the city's ambition and importance. Like its nineteenth-century predecessor, my proposal for Penn Station will likewise celebrate the ideals and optimism of New York and create a heroic entrance to the city. I propose to alter a substantial area of Manhattan in order to create a large open plaza free of any sort of obstruction or division. The project will make a wholly contemporary urban statement by giving over one of the city's last important areas of open land the public. By extending the horizontal grade from Eighth Avenue between Thirty-first and Thirty-fifth Streets, and then gradually stepping down toward the water as a tiered extension over the Hudson River, an unprecedented open plaza can be created. Trains and terminals will be contained beneath this plaza. Most traffic will also be diverted below the Plaza, creating an underground area for through traffic. To avoid isolating the plaza, streets and avenues will be altered to provide gradual approaches to its plane from all sides as well as a two-tiered system of streets and avenues. This will create a level around the plaza for pedestrian as well as local and cross-town traffic and will provide much-needed relief for the express and tunnel traffic that now congests this area.
This proposal for the National Mall in Washington, D.C., would remove a 300 foot cubic volume of earth at the east end of the reflecting pool to create a deep shaft with sides of dressed stone. This massive aperture would be covered by a steel grate of sufficient strength to support a dense concentration of people. At the bottom of this shaft would be rushing water, flowing west toward the Lincoln Memorial. I propose to honor the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King's famous 1963 address on the Mall. That day, the crowd was orientated west making explicit this site's importance for expressing core national principals: in the first instance, the country's founding as a republic under Washington, representing a turning away from monarchy and, secondly, Emancipation under Lincoln which guaranteed freedom and equality as a birthright for all Americans. The day King made his "I have a Dream" speech, the crowd looked to a future that in many ways began with and extends from these choices. By evoking how that speech turned the nation while at the same time preserving the Mall as a stage for Americans to stand together and demonstrate against injustice, I hope to represent the generation of WWII as making a third fundamental choice. Like Independence and Emancipation this generation's resolve to oppose fascism and injustice can be celebrated without breaking the historic physical and symbolic connection between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial.
I imagine this proposal for a Guggenheim Plaza on piers 9, 11, 13, and 14, below the Brooklyn Bridge on the East River, as one element of a larger park ringing Manhattan. My proposal is meant to follow in the footsteps of earlier efforts to shape city life, like New York's Central Park. I am proposing to drop the South Street Viaduct (an elevated expressway) below grade and create a 400,000-square-foot riverside plaza with an unobstructed entrance from downtown Manhattan on top of these piers. Boston has faced the fact that in order to revive its waterfronts it must remove the elevated highways that have acted as barriers throughout the city. New York should do the same. These highways act as a fire wall, isolating the waterfront from the crowds only a few blocks away. Connecting this plaza to the city by moving the South Street Viaduct is the most crucial part of the design.
© Copyright 2001, John Powers, please do not redistribute without permission