Has There Been A Great 9/11 Work Of Art? Ctd


Submissions from the in-tray continue to overwhelm. A popular suggestion is the memorial seen above, arguably the greatest piece of 9/11 art. The photo's March 11, 2002 caption reads:

Memorial lights at World Trade Center Site shine skyward after being lit for first night. By Keith Torrie/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images.

A reader writes:

No doubt this painting has crossed your radar.  For some of us Gerhard Richter is the greatest artist of our time and, despite the palpable uncertainty and unheroic treatment of his version of the 9/11 event, titled "September", it is the definitive work of art on the theme for me.  How weirdly antiquated – to "paint" the event, and to do so in a way that raises questions as much as pretends to answer them.


I've long felt that Blue Man Group's "Exhibit 13" was the single best work of art created about 9-11. It's a sweet, touching song and the visual aspect is based on found papers from the towers that blew into Brooklyn.

Another submits South Park's "Osama bin Laden Has Farty Pants" episode:

From Sharon unable to pull herself away from CNN to the absurdity of schoolchildren sending dollars to Afghanistan to Looney Tunes homage with Bin Laden as Elmer Fudd, Matt and Trey nailed the moment in the moment. What's more, they did it without being mawkish or sacrificing South Park's edge. 

The Onion also didn't go soft. Another:

To answer the earlier reader who chimed in with Wilco's "Jesus, Etc.", the song does indeed pre-date 9/11.  But the mythology stems from some odd coincidences that warrant its inclusion as a sort of "accidental" piece of 9/11 art.  It helps that it is simply a beautiful song; through the years it has unofficially replaced my wife and I's wedding song.

Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, the album containing "Jesus, Etc." was officially released in 2002.  But this was only after a famously textbook record company skerfuffle Yankee-hotel-foxtrot-cover documented in Sam Jones' film "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" in which Wilco was dropped by its label (Reprise) and bought back the record.  Before the upheaval, the album was originally slated to be released on…September 11, 2001.  Around this time, low-quality versions of the songs were beginning to appear on file-sharing networks, so the band went ahead and streamed the album for free the week after September 11 and released a proper physical copy the next spring.

Had Yankee Hotel Foxtrot seen its original release date, what would have hit shelves the morning of September 11th is an album bearing a stark photo of the twin Monarch towers in Chicago.  Halfway through the record you'd hit "Jesus, Etc.", which contains the lyric "Tall buildings shake, voices escape, singing sad, sad songs."  The song's overarching theme that ultimately all we have is each other, and that's God's love is the currency he spends through us, absolutely sounds like it could be an emotional overlay for the day and its aftermath.  Even (and especially) knowing the song's similarites to 9/11 are only coincidental, it makes for a powerful emotional resonance.  It's one of those songs you just want to sit people down and make them hear.

Several readers submitted examples of "accidental art", or simply songs that deeply resonated in the wake of 9/11 based on a similar theme or sentiment. One prominent example from cinema:

No discussion of 9/11-inspired art can be complete without James Marsh's beautiful, transporting documentary "Man on Wire", which I truly believe is the great 9/11 film. Though the attack itself is never mentioned, it hangs over every single frame of the film, which takes us back to a magical pre-9/11 lower Manhattan fantasy land to recap Philippe Petit's glorious wire-walk between (and triumph over) the Twin Towers. As Bryan Appleyard put it so eloquently back when the film was released, it's both a tribute to the pre-9/11 world and a repudiation of the attack itself. I honestly believe that the film should be broadcast on network TV every 9/11 to remind us of the incredible act of beauty that took place there decades before the terrorists brought it down.

Another example of accidental art that carries its meaning in context:

On Tuesday 9/11 the nation watched the towers fall.  On Thursday 9/14 I attended a PJ Harvery concert in Chicago.  The tour was for the album Stories from the City Stories from the Sea, an album about New York City released almost a year earlier.  The album included songs with such titles as Big Exit, We Float, Kamikazi, and This Mess We're In.

PJ strode out on stage, alone, with a guitar.  Lit by a single spotlight she addressed the audience.  They had thought about canceling the show, especially given the material of the album, but had decided to go on with the show.  She immediately launched into a solo accoustical version of This Mess We're In.  The opening lyrics are:

    Can you hear them? 

    The helicopters? 

    I'm in New York 

    No need for words now 

    We sit in silence 

    You look me 

    In the eye directly 

    You met me 

    I think it's Wednesday 

    The evening 

    The mess we're in and 

    The city sun sets over me 

I remember the chills, I remember the tears, I remember jumping at loud sounds that filtered in from outside the auditorium, I remember cheering and screaming louder and longer than I think I have at any performance, and I remember being so grateful to gather in public and join in a collective grieving with my fellow citizens.

PJ didn't write the album in response to 9/11, but the events of that day gave the lyrics and meanings of each song new weight and pogiancy.  For me, "Stories" will always be about 9/11, what we saw, how we responded, and how we healed. Here is a user-made 9/11 tribute to those died that day featuring the album version of "This Mess We're In" (which features Thom Yorke of Radiohead).

Several readers submitted the poem "110 stories" by the late John M. Ford. Another:

I've seen almost every field of art mentioned except for architecture, which is the one art actually involved in rebuilding the WTC. I'm not talking about the boxy glass office buildings currently going up but about the design for the original urban master plan. Arguably, when taken together, all the B0e18f9bd9 designs from the competition for a new development at Ground Zero constitute a memorable artistic response to 9/11. But the winning master plan design, "Memory Foundations" by Daniel Libeskind, which is now being implemented (albeit in a modified form) deserves special mention here. It is highly unusual for an architecture development to appeal to the emotions, but that was the point of Libeskind's proposal.

It was – and still is – explicitly about history, memory, tragedy and the sanctity of human life. In the architect's own words, "My idea in the master plan was that this was a place of the spirit. This is where people perished. It was not a piece of real estate any longer." The proposal also weaves American history into the new urban fabric in inspired ways: World Trade Center 1 (formerly the "Freedom Tower") will be 1,776 ft. tall to commemorate the country's founding, and the new memorial will celebrate the slurry wall underneath the WTC – a heroic piece of concrete that withstood the attacks thereby preventing Lower Manhattan from being flooded by the Hudson. These elements might be unusual and controversial, but I think they qualify "Memory Foundations" master plan as a worthy 9/11 work of architectural art.

Amy Davidson also marvels at the new WTC site:

It’s not because I have any disdain for the old World Trade Center. I miss the Twin Towers. It makes me angry when I hear them called soulless. They were part of my hometown’s landscape, the constant compass pointers on the city’s street grid—my true south. I thought they were beautiful. My senior prom was at Windows on the World. But for the last several years, my child and I have walked by the site on our way from our apartment to school, talked about the buildings’ progress, and watched them rise. I am ready to love them.

Her coworkers at The New Yorker recommend Netherland, among other works. Scott Galupo responds to the thread here. Previous installments here, here, here and here. The discussion continues on our Facebook page.