Art and the Legacy of 9/11

Art and the Legacy of 9/11

Newscasts and newspapers will dissect it over the next few days. They’ll examine the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 with videos clips, photographs, first-hand accounts and historical analysis. But journalism is only one way to commemorate the tragedy. Art is another. After all, one of the main purposes of film, music, photography, painting, sculpture and theater is to comment on culture and history. It allows us to document, grieve, express, reflect and process life, both bad and good.

“What’s the very first thing you turn to in a time of tragedy? And what’s the very last thing that you do when you try to memorialize it? You create art,” says David Miller, executive director of Grounds For Sculpture in Hamilton. “The arts provide an extraordinary vehicle for people to connect to each other and to understand this bewildering world — a world that contains a tragedy as devastating as 9/11, but holds something as precious as flowers and fine art.”

Miller’s museum is one of many arts organizations across New Jersey that honor the legacy of 9/11 this weekend. Below, Discover Jersey Arts looks at three events that commemorate the anniversary in three distinct ways. One pays homage to first responders. Another is an abstract meditation on loss and remembrance. The third is a musical tribute.

GROUNDS FOR SCULPTURE Hamilton Free Admission for First Responders on Sunday

The 42-acre park in Mercer Country won’t feature an exhibit directly related to 9/11 this weekend. But it’s essentially an outdoor art museum — a place well suited for quiet reflection, where visitors walk a green landscape dotted with sculptures.

And on Sunday, policemen, firemen, emergency works and their families will receive free admission to do so.

“We are reaching out to first responders to salute them and to thank them,” says Miller, Grounds’ executive director.

Plus, the patrons who do have to pay will see a portion of their ticket price donated to charity. The park is giving half the admission Sunday to the Trade Towers Orphans Fund.

First responders and their families will also receive free tickets to Aerial Roots, an upcoming event by acclaimed artist Steve Tobin.

It’s the 10th straight year Grounds For Sculpture has honored the anniversary of Sept. 11. That’s partially because the park itself has a connection to 9/11: Grounds founder Seward Johnson had a sculpture, “Double Check,” at the World Trade Center that managed to survive the blast.

“It became an impromptu shrine,” Miller explains. “Within weeks, it was covered with memories, photographs, flowers, hard hats, clothes, badges. It became a symbol of survival.

“It absolutely astounded our founded when he saw it. Not only did the blast and ash and gasses completely marred the surface of it, but he was also overwhelmed by all the trinkets that were added to it. So he was going to take it back to the studio to get it cleaned. But he said: No, I’m not going to clean it. I’m not going to change it. It is what it is. I’m just going to remove the debris and send it back.”

It’s still there today, near Wall Street.

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY ART MUSEUM “The Life And Death Of Buildings" Now through Nov. 6 Free admission


The exhibit is billed as an “indirect meditation” on 9/11. Thus, “The Life And Death Of Buildings” isn’t a collection of pictures about the destruction of the World Trade Towers. It’s a collection of photographs and other pieces of art that examine all types of structures throughout time and across continents.

“I really didn’t want to do a show about this one event, and here are news photographs about it,” says Joel Smith, the curator of the exhibit at the art museum on Princeton University’s campus. “What I wanted to do was look at: What is it that art and an art museum can do to give us perspective on the most remarkable, historical event that most of us could probably name?

“In our personal experience, 9/11 is a tragedy, an anomaly — it’s something really outstanding in our minds. But what art shows us is the longer-term view. When you look at the pyramids or at the Second Temple in Jerusalem, you realize that the long-term history of human construction and civilization is really the history of building and tearing down, sometimes in very aggressive ways. So I was interested in seeing: How can we put these images that are the only way the World Trade Center lives on in our daily lives into perspective beside the record of all of the history of civilization?”

One part of the exhibit is a 1969 photo collection is Danny Lyons’ “The Death Of Lower Manhattan.” Lyons was a photographer who lived near Wall Street and saw the buildings of his neighborhood being torn down in the late 1960s, partially to make way for the World Trade Center.

“They are really the only photographs on record of that neighborhood,” Smith says. “It was a place that people didn’t really pay attention to visually in art or in photography until it was disappearing. So that provides a really kind of bracing reminder that every building that’s there is there replacing something else.”

Photographs have possibly been the most common reminders and memorials to Sept. 11 over the last 10 years. Which is something that doesn’t surprise Smith.

“A drawing is composed out of the gestures of an artist on a piece of paper, but a photograph is literally the projection of a certain moment in time,” he says. “So there’s that sense of immediate connection to the moment. I describe it as the nearest thing we have to time travel. It’s as close to the operation of your mind as a visual medium can get, I think.”

WESTFIELD SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA “America The Brave” Saturday, 7 p.m. Presbyterian Church in Westfield Adults $25-75, children $12

Resolve, sorrow, pride, hope. Such a gamut of emotions was common in the wake of 9/11. And conductor David Wroe is hoping to re-capture all of it in music.

On Saturday night, Wroe and the Westfield Symphony Orchestra will pay tribute to Sept. 11 with three classical pieces: Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare For The Common Man,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio For Strings,” and Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony No. 9 in E Minor.”

The orchestra will also perform Irving Berlin’s “God Bless America” with a large choir of students from Westfield’s high school and middle school.

A portion of the ticket sales go to the Westfield United Fund 9/11 Scholarship Fund for children who lost parents on Sept. 11.

“It is a complex set of emotions that we all feel as a result of this tragedy,” Wroe says. “It’s a multi-dimensional experience which encompasses emotions both of great sadness and lament, but also feelings of remorse, defiance and, ultimately, hope. We thought we could identify pieces of music which express all these sentiments.”

Wroe says the Copeland selection is “an acclamation of pride, resolve and a piece of music which is a call to arms for the victory of good over evil.”

Barber’s piece, he says, is mournful and soulful, allowing the audience “quietly contemplate the losses we all experienced.”

And the concert ends with Dvorak’s symphony, a piece Wroe says is “full of energy, which represents an absolute characteristic of the American spirit — one of moving forward to rebuild.”

Naturally, photos, videos and written accounts have dominated the way we remember Sept. 11. But Wroe says music can be just as emotional a reminder.

“Music is the language of the heart,” he explains. “It is a universal language. You don’t need to know the grammar of a specific language of a country. It’s a language which we all speak, and we’re all qualified to speak because we are feeling human beings and we are thinking human beings. This is a language that beautifully expresses, perhaps deeper than words and arguably deeper than pictures. I think music is perhaps the most perfect vehicle to galvanize the community to come together and commemorate this event.”

September 11 at Grounds for Sculpture: A Reflection

September 11 at Grounds for Sculpture: A Reflection

Alan Menken and Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse

Alan Menken and Newsies at Paper Mill Playhouse