Could the ‘Sphere’ Go Here?

By David W. Dunlap New York Times

What is to become of Fritz Koenig’s “Sphere for Plaza Fountain”? The colossal bronze sculpture was the centerpiece of the World Trade Center plaza. It survived the September 11 attack and has stood for more than 10 years in Battery Park, damaged but instantly recognizable as a “memorial to those we lost,” in Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s words.

The “Sphere” must make way soon — perhaps within a month or so — for a renovation of the park by the Department of Parks and Recreation on behalf of the nonprofit Battery Conservancy.This displacement has been pending since spring. So you would think that city and state officials had by now devised a plan for relocating an artifact that former Gov. George E. Pataki described as “a symbol of our never forgetting those heroes who died on September 11.”

Or rather, you would think they’d have come up with a solution unless you remembered the decade of dysfunction around the redevelopment of ground zero. Put baldly: none of the “stakeholders” will accept responsibility but none will relinquish jurisdiction. The result has been one stalemate after another, from big questions, like who controls the memorial museum, to smaller ones, like where to put the “Sphere.”

The likeliest place would seem to be on the 9/11 Memorial plaza, not far from where the sculpture stood before the attack. That is the hope of Michael Burke, whose brother, Capt. William F. Burke Jr. of Engine Company 21, was killed on September 11, 2001, and of more than 7,200 people who have signed Mr. Burke’s online petition, Save the W.T.C. Sphere.

But the chairman of the National September 11 Memorial and Museum at the World Trade Center Foundation — otherwise known as Mayor Bloomberg — will not entertain this idea. He hasn’t said so publicly, but his opposition presumably has to do with the fact that the memorial has already been designed to underplay evidence of the savagery of 9/11. What’s more, structural reinforcement would be needed to set the 22.5-ton sculpture on the plaza, which doubles as the roof of an enormous underground complex.

The only alternative that Mr. Bloomberg has offered so far is Battery Park. At a news conference on May 21, he said, “I think it’s beautiful where it is.” An aide must have claimed his ear shortly after that impromptu remark — “Uh, your honor, it’s actually our parks department that’s forcing it out” — because he seems to have dropped the idea.If he has another idea, however, he hasn’t shared it publicly.So what does the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey think? The authority commissioned the “Sphere” in the first place and is the artwork’s proprietor.

On June 28, Patrick J. Foye, the authority’s executive director, told reporters, “Frankly, we agree with Mr. Burke, who spoke at our board meeting today.” He added that Mr. Burke’s idea “resonates with many people in N.Y. and N.J. and many people here at the P.A. especially — given the fact that 84 family were killed on 9/11.” (He referred to the fact that 84 authority employees, including its executive director, Neil Levin, died that day.)

In other words, Mr. Foye favors moving the “Sphere” to the one place at the World Trade Center site over which the Port Authority has little control; and where the man who does have control doesn’t want it to go. That doesn’t sound too promising.

There is, however, a plaza over which the Port Authority has authority and which, at the moment, has no defined future use. It is a small open space on Fulton Street, directly opposite the north memorial pool, between 1 World Trade Center and the site of a planned performing arts center.

The rendering at the top of this post shows that plaza. Eventually, if the arts center is built, open space won’t be nearly as large as it appears here, since the grassy strips at the right are placeholders for the center. But it would be large enough to fit the “Sphere.”

“It’s a perfect solution,” Mr. Burke said. “The P.A. said they’d like it back. Bloomberg has said it’s theirs; they can put it where they like. It’s not part of the memorial; it recaptures and honors the past, remains as a beacon of the destructive capability of evil men and certainly builds for the future.”

Mr. Foye said through a spokesman that he would go no further in discussing his views than his statement of June 28. This extends to giving the public any idea of where the “Sphere” will go on an interim basis, and when; though he has stated that it will remain on display and not be warehoused, even temporarily, in a hangar at Kennedy International Airport, as was once discussed.

The “Sphere” was donated by the AXA Art Insurance Corporation, which insured the work, “for purposes of public exhibitions, including but not limited to museums, galleries or any other public space or memorials dedicated to those who perished as a result of occurrences on September 11, 2001,” Christiane Fischer, the president and chief executive, said in a statement.

Two versions of the “Sphere” are destined for the World Trade Center site no matter what else happens. An original bronze maquette that Mr. Koenig created at 1/12th scale and a much smaller bronze model are in the collection of the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Mr. Koenig had largely absented himself from discussions over what was to become of the life-size “Sphere.” Percy Adlon, a documentary filmmaker in Santa Monica,Calif., and a friend of Mr. Koenig’s, explained in May that the artist, who is 88, “didn’t want to get involved in the messy decisions.” But Mr. Adlon said Thursday that Mr. Koenig now wanted to submit his own concept for relocating the “Sphere” to the World Trade Center site.“He seems to understand,” Mr. Adlon said, “that the debate is open again.”

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