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Tilted Arc Analysis Essay

The artist Richard Serra, in 1981, installed his sculpture, Tilted Arc, in the Federal Plaza in New York City. Even though the piece had been commissioned by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), the Arts-In-Architecture program, it immediately caused controversy. In 1963, the GSA established the Arts-In Architecture program to make 12 of 1% of a federal building’s cost to be spent on public art. The point of this program was to enhance public spaces and to expand the public’s awareness of contemporary art by installing artworks created by contemporary U.S. artists. The size of the structure caused it to become an immediate eyesore to some people, especially the ones that worked in the surrounding area.

Tilted Arc is a curving wall of raw steel that is 120 feet long and 12 feet high and it carves the space of the Federal Plaza in half. According to Serra, the point of the sculpture is this, “The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza. As he moves, the sculpture changes. Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer’s movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes”.

My personal viewpoint of this sculpture is not favorable, I definitely think I would be one of the people thinking that it was an absolute eyesore. I understand what Serra is saying about the expansion and the movement but to be perfectly honest | think it’s more of a big, dark, ugly wall and an inconvenient blockage of sorts for the people walking through the plaza. I probably would have joined the letter writing campaign to get rid of it. Judge Edward Re was the one who actually started the letter writing campaign to have the sculpture removed and it took four years for the regional administrator of the GSA, William Diamond, to decide that he would hold a public hearing to determine if the Tilted Arc should be moved to another location.

The sculpture itself cost $175,000.00 and the estimate for taking it down would be $35,000.00 with another $50,000.00 to put it back up in another location. Richard Serra was obviously not happy about this and testified at the public hearing in March 1985. Serra stated that the sculpture was site specific and if it was to be removed from the plaza it would be destroyed and if it was to be relocated, he would want his name removed from it. During the hearing 180 people testified with 122 of them wanting the sculpture to stay where it is and the other 58 people wanting it removed. Due to my viewpoint of this sculpture I was surprised to find myself in the minority.

Some of the people that testified, mainly artists themselves or museum curators, actually found this piece to be a great work of art and I find that really hard to comprehend. I am definitely with the 58 people that testified to remove it and they were mainly people who worked in the plaza. They stated that the sculpture interferes with the public use of the plaza and they also said that it attracted graffiti, rats, and even terrorists who might want to use the wall for bombs. I didn’t even think of all those factors, I just thought the sculpture was totally unappealing to the human eye, too big, too cold and not a work of art to me.

The jury of five people must have agreed with me because they determined by a ruling of 4 to 1 that the sculpture should be removed. Serra appealed the ruling but did not win and during the night of March 15, 1989, federal workers cut the Tilted Arc into three pieces and removed it from the Federal Plaza. I expected that the piece would have been relocated but apparently it was not, instead they sent it off to a scrap metal yard. The big question has been and will always be, “Did the public and government have the right to dictate the removal of a public sculpture commissioned and contracted for with government funds?” I have mixed views on this and I believe this is partly due to my dislike of the piece.

But if I step back and try to look at it logically I can definitely see why this caused so much controversy and 26 years later we are still talking about it and writing papers about the case. Yes, a committee backed by the federal government did commission this piece for a federal plaza and yes, the artist chosen believed that this sculpture would be there forever like the Statue of Liberty for instance.

But most people did not understand the symbolism of this piece, it’s just a big dark, metal wall, what is its significance, what is its meaning? The average public would not understand the meaning of the piece, should that matter? I guess my thought is just because the government-funded it doesn’t mean we should be stuck with it forever. Our government funds a lot of things that we as Americans don’t agree with and we should have a say in some of the decisions.

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