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The World Trade Center’s Only Surviving Art Heads Home

Battered, but not broken, Fritz Koenig’s “Sphere” is being reinstalled near its original location at Ground Zero

The battered remnants of Fritz Koenig's "Sphere" will return to the World Trade Center site after years of exile. (7mike5000 (Wikipedia/Creative Commons) )
smithsonian.com

Editor's note, August 22, 2017: Fritz Koenig's statue "Sphere for Plaza Fountain" has returned home. The Associated Press reports last Wednesday, workers began moving the 25-foot-high sculpture​ from its temporary location in Manhattan's Battery Park to a location near One World Trade Center, where the statue once stood from 1971 until the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001.

When the dust settled after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, a symbol of the World Trade Center as it used to be remained. Battered but not destroyed, Fritz Koenig’s statue “Sphere for Plaza Fountain” survived the destruction of the Twin Towers. And now, reports David W. Dunlap for The New York Times, it’s going home—returning to the World Trade Center site after 14 years in Battery Park.

“The Sphere,” as it is also known, was commissioned to stand in the middle of a fountain in front of the plaza between the two towers in 1966. Koenig, a German sculptor, hewed it out of bronze in Germany and it was installed in 1971. The 45,000-pound bronze and steel sculpture became one of the Twin Towers’ most noteworthy survivors when it was discovered among the rubble. Inside, workers found a bible, an airline seat and papers from the fallen towers. 

The sphere became a symbol of the power of art and hope to transcend terror, but after the attacks, the question of whether and how to incorporate the Sphere into planned 9/11 memorial became a contentious one. As Dunlap reports, the Sphere was dismantled and rebuilt as an interim memorial in the Battery area of Lower Manhattan in 2002. It then became a flash point for public tensions around how best to memorialize the terror attack’s victims. As officials argued about what to do with the unwieldy survivor, the public continued to view it as a kind of shrine.

As Dunlap reported in 2012, Michael Burke, the brother of Captain William F. Burke, Jr., a firefighter who died during the rescue efforts, even led a guerrilla campaign to scrub the statue after it fell into disrepair. “Thirty years it stood as a symbol of world peace,” said Burke in testimony before a public meeting of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 2012.

“At lunchtime every nice day, office workers of every race, language, and dress gathered around it," he continued. "At Gettysburg, Normandy, Hiroshima, and Auschwitz, past generations preserved the authentic artifacts at their place in order to faithfully convey the history of each. It’s by that we best honor the memory of those who perished.”

Now, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has finally agreed to bring the Sphere home, relocating the 25-foot-high sculpture without, as the release promises, “adversely impacting the architectural design of the Memorial Plaza.” Though the statue will not be incorporated into the National September 11 Memorial Museum, it will become part of Liberty Park, a green space near the 9/11 Memorial that is home to, among other plants, a descendant of the horse chestnut tree that stood over Anne Frank’s hiding place in Amsterdam during World War II. The Sphere will live on—and serve as a poignant, visceral reminder of what New York lost on that fateful day nearly 16 years ago.

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