By Ann Binlot, as published in The Economist on November 6th, 2014
STANDING 1,776 feet (541 metres) and 104 storeys tall, One World Trade Center opened its doors in Manhattan this week after 13 years of construction costing $3.9 billion. One of the many sensitive choices relating to a building conceived in difficult circumstances—it occupies a spot by the Twin Towers that collapsed after the terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001—was the selection of the art that adorns the lobby walls.
The building’s developers, the Durst Organisation, assigned the choice to Asher Edelman and his New York-based gallery, Edelman Arts. Mr Edelman, a financier, was supposedlyone of the inspirations behind the character of Gordon Gekko from the film "Wall Street". Now he's closely involved with the art world, and was chosen by the Durst Organisation on the grounds that his curatorial selections would be a "fitting compliment to the public space in the building"—surely the least one would hope for.
His team decided that any work hung in One World Trade Center should be abstract. One of them, Andrew Dermont, said: “We were trying to put art in the building that we thought would be unifying, instead of divisive. We wanted it to accommodate everyone’s tastes.” Art that accommodates "everyone's tastes" sounds like a contradiction in terms, but perhaps appropriately the works make no mention of the site’s history.
Visitors will be greeted by a huge, 90-foot mural (pictured) that the Durst Organisation says may be the largest of its kind in New York. It is the work of José Parlá, a Brooklyn-based artist who has painted murals at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Barclays Center. Mr Parlá worked on it for about eight months in his studio and then for two weeks on site. He wants the colourful, jewel-toned piece, which is covered in his signature, graffiti-esque script and titled “ONE: Union of the Senses”, to stand as a symbol of diversity. “It was very important to me that this painting would reflect a massive respect to the situation and event and the families, and a massive respect for the site,” he said.
For elsewhere in the building, Mr Edelman and his team chose work by four other artists. In the back lobby hang two subdued canvases by the late Fritz Bultman, an abstract expressionist represented by Mr Edelman, and in the front are two by Doug Argue, a Minneosotan fond of incorporating maths and science into his art. He too was once represented by Mr Edelman. On the 64th-floor sky lobby will be seven pieces by Greg Goldberg and a sculpture by Bryan Hunt.
It is Mr Parlá’s lively mural that dominates, though. Such a colourful work was deemed suitable for the front lobby “because that’s where people come in the morning,” said Mr Edelman. Mr Bultman’s paintings on the other side are calmer, “because that’s the black limousine side”. The Durst Organisation reckons that some 20,000 people will enter the building each day and see Mr Parlá’s mural. That's not a bad audience for a piece of art: the Metropolitan Museum of Art has around 17,000 visitors a day.
“I think that the role of the art is to create life within a building,” said Mr Edelman. “It’s not just about white marble walls, it’s about spirit and life. From the building’s point of view, it’s about branding, and something that is beyond the simple walls.”
It seems optimistic to assert that these paintings will become part of the branding of a skyscraper whose very existence is loaded with such poignancy. But at the same time it is good to see a heavy emphasis on the importance of public art: visitors will soon work out if it really is to all tastes.