masterful work of
sculpture that stretched across Federal Plaza (otherwise known as Foley Square) in lower Manhattan was never actually destroyed. Rather, after a contentious legal battle that forced the work’s removal, Tilted Arc
was dismantled and taken to a storage space. But the case is more complicated than that. The piece, commissioned by the General Services Administration, provoked public outrage, both at the price (more than $500,000 in today’s currency) and at how it obstructed a clear path across the square for those who entered the buildings surrounding the plaza each day for work.
Despite major cultural figures testifying in favor of the piece remaining in its original location, the work was removed following a contentious legal trial that cited security concerns as a rationale for removal. It is currently housed in a Maryland storage space, where it has lived since 1999. The work will likely never see the light of day again, since, as Serra noted, “it is a site-specific work and as such is not to be relocated. To remove the work is to destroy the work.” So, although Tilted Arc still exists as a physical object, the work has been robbed of its context—an act tantamount to its destruction.
Claude Monet, Water Lilies
Created Early 20th Century • Destroyed 1958
If you had picked up a copy of the New York Times
on April 16th, 1958, you would have found a front-page news story
about a fire at the Museum of Modern Art
. The story describes harrowing scenes, including descriptions of employees huddling in the treasurer’s office on the fifth floor, and the museum’s famous director of collections, Alfred H. Barr Jr., smashing his window open with a chair, allowing people to flee to an adjacent roof. Others were evacuated via ladder. Elevator operators reportedly “stuck by their posts through the fire and smoke.” Rene d’Harnoncourt, the museum’s director, “trudged out to the street, with tears of grief welling from his eyes.”
Firemen and staff—including “women employees, soaked by dripping water, [who] kept helping save the pictures”—were able to rescue some $4 million worth of art from the museum (that is roughly $33 million in today’s dollars). But the blaze, started by smoking workers who were installing an air conditioning system, caused one death and damaged six pieces of art. Among them were two of ’s
“Water Lilies,” both irreparably damaged, one by firefighters who had unknowingly crushed it when breaking through the building’s windows. Efforts made to repair the work over the next three years were unsuccessful, despite a letter from
, who offered to make a contribution towards the painting’s restoration.
Diego Rivera, Man at the Crossroads
Created 1933 • Destroyed 1934