Tuesday, January 06, 2009


We walked downtown to look at the site where Richard Serra’s 35.6 meter long Tilted Arc once stood in front of the Jacob K. Javits federal office building. It was removed after public complaints, much controversy and legal action. You can read an interesting summary of the supporting and opposing statements in court along with the judgment here or buy the book The Destruction of Tilted Arc, edited by Clara Weyergraf-Serra and Martha Buskirk, here. The affair began with a petition signed by 1300 federal employees working in and around the Federal Plaza to the General Services Administration (GSA) requesting the removal of Tilted Arc. The GSA’s own offices were located in one of the buildings looking onto the sculpture. It ended in May 1985 with Dwight Ink, acting administrator of the GSA, asking the National Endowment for the Arts to “review alternative locations” and the GSA Regional Administrator to “explore several low-cost options for improving the environmental character of the Federal Plaza.” Tilted Arc was finally removed 20 years ago on 15 March 1989.

The bitter irony of it all. Now in the space where Tilted Arc once stood is a convoluted arrangement of intensely curved public seating and wrought iron decorative features designed by landscape architect Martha Schwartz. The colour scheme is lime green set against purple tinted cement. This disturbing maze of circularity seems designed to mock Serra’s subtle arc.

Images: Top and middle right, the plaza today. Middle left, Tilted Arc in situ before removal. Bottom, The plaza showing the maze of seating that replaced Tilted Arc.