A shudder ran through the building from top to bottom as a black hole spewed smoke and debris. And art, also art. The first sensation was of unreality, although the idea of a terrorist attack did not even cross the minds of those present. The planes controlled by Al Qaeda hit the Twin Towers in New York and little or nothing could make the trembling voice of a grainy broadcast that would go down in history as did the lives that fell into the void.
Al Qaeda had dealt a great blow. The deaths were counted in the thousands and the damage, which still lasts twenty years later, marked the economy, thought and society, but also the culture of what was since then an era that is no longer.
The works of Miró, Alexander Calder or Picasso; those of Lichtenstein or David Hockney. All were pulverized among the ruins of the World Trade Center. The art world lost in just one hour 100 million dollars in mural paintings, sculptures, recordings or historical archives exhibited in or around the Twin Towers. In 2002, The Heritage Emergency National Task Force (HENTF), the entity charged with protecting the cultural heritage of the United States, estimated that “the greatest disaster to affect the art industry” was a catalog of destroyed works of a value Incalculable, although what they did not estimate was that that event would continue to be twenty years later, represented in the cultural discourse of contemporary art: “Since September 11, the conflict as a theme has been covered more regularly in international exhibitions, fairs and biennials. Through artistic expression, men and women have studied and documented the immediate change the attack brought to the world, and how it has affected each of us. Placing these works in the same place where the attack occurred helps visitors discover another human perspective on disasters like this, ”explains Joe Daniels, president of the foundation of the World Trade Memorial, one of the buildings damaged during the attacks and currently rebuilt with five new skyscrapers housing a memorial dedicated to the victims.
Art has documented the immediate change that the attack brought to the world »
Artists of the stature of Diane Arbus, Bruce Conner or Donna Levinstone, among others, have made their works a reflection of how the terrorist attack altered the public perception of the conflict and the subjectivity with which we conceive the world and what happens in him: «Through the lenses of art we once again experience that lively thrill that we all felt on that unforgettable Thursday morning. The artists, like the rest of the mortals, also suffered when trying to find an explanation before this great destruction and slaughter of innocents; and they responded as best they knew, with their creations.
World Trade Center as a cloud (2001), is one of the most representative works on this subject. In it, the sculptor Christopher Saucedo represents the twin towers as if they were a cloud, and he does so in memory of his brother, a firefighter who died on guard line at the time of the collapse of the North Tower. Also in memory of the victims, Tumbling Woman (2002), by Eric Fischl, depicts a woman falling as so many did, and Donna Levinstone in Eternal Rest (2002), paints the cloud of smoke that invaded the city that September 11 as the souls of the deceased to eternal rest: «When I started making the sculpture, I needed a way to include us, those of us who survived, as well as to those who died, ”explained Fischl after the exhibition of his sculpture at the World Trade.
Be that as it may, on September 11th I left the country of the stars and stripes in a state of shock. Also to the whole world and to the artistic style that now bears witness to tragedy and pain, and to life and death without censorship.
The tragedy in art after 9/11
Tsunamis, landslides, air crashes or stock market crashes have been represented in art as a reaction or manifestation of artists to the events that surround them. The trend was growing after the attack on the Twin Towers, which opened the artistic aspect of representing change: «Artists have always reacted to the events that surround them. 9/11 is the starting point to look at how the world has changed in terms of security, laws, fear, urban culture, the climate of danger and many individual and collective aspects that have been affected by the contemporary conflict, and hung on the walls of a museum ”, says Daniels.
The Berlin Wall, the Concorde accident, the giant wave in Japan, the Spanish Civil War or the most recent Coronavirus pandemic, are some of the historical events that, after 9/11, have seen in art a complaint or expression – good or bad – of the tragedy. Locals and visitors to Berlin, for example, daily visit what was once the wall of infamy, today turned into a cultural space where artists from 21 countries of the world painted with brushes and sprays, works that have become true icons of the German capital. The same occurs with the walls that house Picasso’s Guernica (1937) or The Shootings of May 3 (1814), the painting with which Goya forever transformed the way we look at the war against French domination.
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9/11, the terror that modified art