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THOMPSON: The controversial ‘Teardrop’ 911 memorial

January 22, 2018 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


The National September 11 Memorial and Museum in Lower Manhattan draws huge crowds…about 30 million people since opening in mid-May of 2014. Two one-acre reflecting pools with two enormous waterfalls surrounded by 400 trees stand in the 8-acre footprints of the old World Trade Center Twin Towers. The emotions of visitors might vary…but it is always a sombre place.

From the pier in Battery Park you can look south across New York Bay - where the Hudson River and the Atlantic Ocean merge - past Ellis and Liberty Islands all the way to Bayonne, NJ. With good binoculars you can see another 9/11 memorial there…one that has stood almost eight years longer…but it garners thousands rather than millions of visitors each year.

Why it gets so few visitors is not a complete mystery…most American or international travellers visiting New York City don’t take a side trip to Bayonne. I worked in Manhattan for four years and travelled to New York City maybe one hundred times over nearly five decades…and never once set foot in Bayonne.

Still, the memorial is visually striking…though not without controversy. It towers 106 feet into the air…easily visible from Brooklyn just a few miles east across the bay. The memorial’s official name is “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism,” but it is known more commonly as the “Teardrop” memorial.

As you can see from the accompanying photo…the bronze-plated structure rises 10 stories with a huge nickel-plated teardrop at its center. When it was finished in 2006 by Russian artist Zurab Tseretel…it quickly became the art world’s latest lightening rod for criticism.

"To the Struggle Against World Terrorism"
Image Credit: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The structure is both architecture and a work of art, and as with all art…beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There are art critics galore in New York. Scores of those critics are professionals and their opinions carry weight…and an unknown number of amateur critics. The amateurs can be even harsher - and don’t care what the professionals think. Personally, I have never found residents of New York or New Jersey shy about offering an opinion…on most anything…whether they’re professional or amateur any things.

The “Teardrop” has been called a “powerful message about international terrorism” and a “cliché” by area residents and the art community. One magazine called it the “world’s ugliest statue.” Of course, this isn’t true by a long shot. One only has to go to Seattle, WA to view a bizarre rendition of Christopher Columbus, or Oslo, Norway for a statue of a naked man juggling three babies while apparently drop-kicking a fourth to realize there are far uglier statues.

But the truth is…politics might get in the way and throw some shade on the “Teardrop. It was, after all, a gift from a Russian artist…one who, in fact, signed a letter supporting Vladimir Putin’s takeover of the Ukraine. The artist - Tseretel - wears controversy like most people wear clothes. He once placed 74 busts of Czarist Royalty in the heart of St. Petersburg, for example, and his statues of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill have all been refused at various times by the nation’s they each led.

Even so, Former-President Bill Clinton at the unveiling of the “Teardrop” in 2006, spoke highly of the artist for “capturing the remarkable feelings that go beyond words.”

Like the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan, the “Teardrop” also memorializes those who lost their lives during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. A small piece of one of the Twin Towers building was added to the site a few years ago…but it remains well behind the visitor numbers of the memorial across the bay.

The “Teardrop” memorial was originally slated for Jersey City…but it was refused by the city.

So, Bayonne became the home for the “Teardrop”…estimated value…about US $12 Million.

And while I’m no art critic - at least not one who’s paid - I don’t find it all that offensive. Indeed, it speaks to me of the sadness of that day…and the loss. And no put down to Bayonne…but I’m guessing it’s far better than some things that could have been built there.

That said, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced in 2010 - four years after it was built - that the Authority planned to build a ship container facility on the land…and the memorial would have to be re-located. There’s been no further word from the Port Authority since…and I’m guessing that the “Teardrop” - lower visitor numbers notwithstanding - will remain in Bayonne…where it is.

Someday when I’m visiting New York City, maybe I’ll take a boat a few miles across New York Bay for a closer look. I’ll do this because - according to more than a few disgruntled visitors online - GPS devices apparently don’t take you there if you’re driving. I’m guessing those lower visitor numbers are easier to understand now.

– Don Thompson, an American awaiting Canadian citizenship, lives in Vernon and in Florida. In a career that spans more than 40 years, Don has been a working journalist, a speechwriter and the CEO of an advertising and public relations firm. A passionate and compassionate man, he loves the written word as much as fine dinners with great wines.  His essays are a blend of news reporting and opinion.


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