9/11 watercolours on show in Vienna

By Martin Bailey The Art Newspaper

New York artist Eric Fischl has unveiled a series of 17 almost life-size watercolours of “Falling Figures”, inspired by photographic images of people jumping to their death from the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001. The works are being shown, for the first time, at the Albertina in Vienna (until 18 May).

The “Falling Figures” are displayed alongside Fischl’s sculpture of Ten Breaths: Tumbling Woman II, 2007—a bronze portraying a nude woman at the moment her head hits the ground. The original version was shown at New York’s Rockefeller Center in September 2002, but was withdrawn after two days because it caused offence. As the Albertina catalogue records, the artist was “accused in the press of trying to further his career on the back of the suffering of others”.

Fischl indignantly denies the charge. He told The Art Newspaper that he had only reluctantly agreed to the removal of the sculpture in 2002 because of bomb threats against Rockefeller Center.

Three thousand [sic] lives were lost in the attacks on 11 September, but Fischl points out that there were no bodies [sic]: “The grieving process quickly took the form of a lament at the loss of architecture. The only images of dying were quickly censored by the media—the indelible images of people who had fallen or jumped.”

Fischl now says of his sculpture: “I did not want to make it horrifically graphic. I wanted to imbue it with the sense of what happened to the whole country at that moment. The country has been off balance. We have become fragmented, tribal, vicious towards each other, intolerant of our differences and deeply afraid. I naively believed that art could somehow ameliorate that.”

Fischl also made a series of related watercolours over the years—which until now he has never shown. When asked if he knew anyone caught up in 9/11, he responds that the question is not really relevant, but yes, he lost a friend.

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