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White Elephants

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 The story was headlined: "9-11 Monument Being Scrapped For New Container Piers." My wife, Dorothy, asked the same question that many asked when they saw the story: "Did you ever hear of this?" Actually I did hear about the monument sometime in my news surfing. The "Tear of Grief", or monument "To the Struggle Against World Terrorism", was donated to the US by the Russian people, stands close to 100', and was erected in Bayonne New Jersey five years before designers of New York's Ground Zero  monument finally got their act together.

In New York at the WTC site, the twin pools or "voids," as designer Michael Arad describes them, are said to  create a moving feeling of emptiness, combined with peace and solace.  The memorial, titled "Reflecting Absence," was finally dedicated on 9/11 this year. And the entire Trade Center project is supposed to be completed by 2015.

But why have so few heard of the "teardrop"? People have been writing to Hoaxbuster and Snopes to find out if it existed. Yes, the 98' bronze-clad tower with a jagged rip at its center and a 40' teardrop suspended within, stands facing NY harbor, massive yet ignored.  

Was a silent press the result of a puerile plot to snub a heartfelt gift, just because it came from Russia?
The story that its sculptor Zurab Tsereteli flew to New York and visited Ground Zero, but "decided that it wasn’t the appropriate place for the sculpture" sounds bogus. He did pitch it across the harbor to the mayor of Jersey City, who loved it. But the mayor died, and objections surfaced. A Jersey City artists’ organization called it “an insensitive, self-aggrandizing piece of pompousness by one of the world’s blatant self-promoters.”

In 2004 the project was put on hold. But neighboring Bayonne expressed interest. However the city had only $40,000 to spend. No problem, according to Tsereteli, who offered to pay for  the installation of his “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism” monument himself.

Tsereteli, President of the Russian Academy of the Arts, is no stranger to controversy. Opponents once tried to blow up his three-hundred-foot-tall statue of “Peter the Great,” which now dominates the Moscow skyline. That monument, along with the "teardrop" was listed by Joshua Keating in Foreign Policy magazine as one of The World’s Ugliest Statues.

William Finnegan who wrote a New Yorker article about the Jersey monument asked Vasili, Tsereteli's grandson and interpreter, how he obtains the valuable metals that go into the monuments: “From a military factory that did airplanes. In Dzerzhinsk. A secret city.” was the reply. What about financing? (one of Tsereteli's lawyers said the "Tear" cost twelve million dollars.) “My grandfather paid the money,” said Vasili.

The "Tear" features a shiny 40-foot teardrop suspended within a jagged opening in a 106-foot rectangular bronze tower. The teardrop has been variously described as stainless steel, nickel-plated steel or titanium, and continually drips water. Inscribed at its base are the names of all the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania, and those of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
Tsereteli says that right after 9/11 he was inspired while walking in Moscow  and seeing the grief displayed by his countrymen; tears on the faces of many he passed by.

The monument was homeless in New York from the start, then deported across the river to Jersey City. That burg has its own fairly substantial homeless population and finally declined the offer of a free monument. And after all, Jersey City already had the 50' Colgate Clock, touted as the world's largest, keeping time for busy New Yorkers across the river with its 2,200 pound minute hand.
The tear finally found a "permanent site of honor" facing the harbor, lady liberty and the twin towers site, in Harbor View Park at Bayonne's decommissioned Military Ocean Terminal. It was dedicated on September 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the attack, with Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin in attendance.

But Jersey seems hard country for 9/11 monuments. A smaller glass sculpture, the "Flame Memorial" in Hoboken's Pier A Park was damaged in 2008 and held together with shipping tape. That city later tried crazy glue. But last June it finally fell to pieces. One wag wrote: "It’s not that expensive to hire a glass guy to do a good job. Come on Hoboken, my parking tickets alone could pay for it". (If only "Ol' Blue Eyes" were still around, he'd no doubt be willing to front the bill for this commemorative on Sinatra ground zero.)

But the future of Bayonne's Teardrop Memorial is still uncertain. In August 2010 the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey gave $225 million to the Bayonne Local Redevelopment Authority to build a container port on the land around Harbor View Park. The contract states that if the Park gets in the way of container port operations, then the BLRA must pay to remove easement restrictions by 2023, or the Port Authority will stop forking over annual installments of $5 million.

In August 2010 the Jersey Journal reported that due to the sale, the 10-story high, 175-ton monument would likely have to be moved. BLRA director Chris Patella said it was a "very strong likelihood" since it's on the man-made peninsula's "most prime piece of real estate."

Tsereteli said he was "very sad to hear" of that development: "If the Monument is relocated, it must be installed in another location appropriate to honor the memories of those we lost." But moving the 175-ton work is no simple task. It is installed on steel and cement caissons drilled into bedrock. Each of its five pieces is so large that even the largest crane in Bayonne's container port could not lift it.
Despite the contract, Charles B. McKenna, director of the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness wrote to Frank Petrucci, chairman of the September 11th Bayonne Remembers Committee in January saying: "I have checked with representatives of the Port of New York and they have assured me that there are no plans to move the 'Teardrop' Monument. Thus, I hope this allays your fears."  Says Petrucci: "The Russian people donated it at millions of dollars, and I really don't think they want it to be moved."

It's been called "a giant tea biscuit" and  "one of The World’s Ugliest Statues". But what do ordinary non-artistic folks think of it? “Pretty impressive,” says one. Another calls it a "breathtakingly beautiful creation"

Robert "Captain Bob" Terzi, a Bayonne taxi driver started a petition to prevent the relocation. His sister-in-law survived both World Trade Center attacks and visits the memorial every morning. Karen Collins and her 8-year-old son Christian come to the memorial once or twice a week in the summer.
Barbara Shields said her father, a longshoreman, used to take her out to see the Trade Center towers being built: "I watched them go up and then I watched them come down," Her cousin died on 9/11 and Barbara and her daughter Megan come to the Teardrop Memorial dozens of times a year. "Whatever the weather, rain or snow, it's beautiful here."

A band of 40 firefighters, police officers, and other emergency workers, the Brotherhood Riders, visited the “Teardrop” September 10 as part of their fourth annual 22 day 1,600-mile bike ride from Florida to New York City commemorating the 9/11 anniversary. The next day, 9/11's tenth anniversary, the Bayonne Remembers Committee unveiled a 4' memorial section of World Trade Center steel at the park. It was brought in by an American Legion honor escort and placed at the foot of the teardrop sculpture.

9/11 affected lots of people. I myself have two cousins who divided their time between offices, often working at or near the attack sites. On that day cousin Chris was at his Jersey office, not the one near the Twin Towers. And cousin Jack was across the Potomac, not at the Pentagon. I asked them about the Teardrop Monument, but neither had heard of it.

My opinion of the monument- It's a bit large and not very subtle, but it's not quite "an insensitive, self-aggrandizing piece of pompousness" as the group "Pro Arts Jersey City" dubbed it. I think what it symbolizes trumps its design.

One Tseretelli sculpture, entitled 'Good Defeats Evil', is on the grounds of the UN building in New York City. It was donated to the UN by the by the Soviet Union in 1990. At 39 feet high, it's a 40 ton monumental bronze depicting St George slaying the dragon of nuclear war. The dragon's body is made from parts of American Pershing II and Soviet SS20 missiles.
His latest project is to install a 100 meter monument of Jesus Christ on the Solovki archipelago on the White Sea.

Tsereteli's name has become a Muscovite catchword. They have a saying: “That’s just plain Tsereteli”, meaning something that's useless and tasteless. Urban legend has it that the statue of Peter the Great – the eighth tallest statue in the world, towering 315' over the Moscow River – was originally entitled "Columbus" and it was presented to the U.S., rejected due to its disproportionate and gargantuan size and that Tsereteli then cut off its head, gave it a new one, and offered it to Russia as Peter, the same Peter who incidentally built St. Petersburg because he never liked Moscow. So, why is his colossal statue in Moscow?  The story is that Tsereteli had a cozy relationship with its ex-mayor, Yury Luzhkov.
In November 2008, the Peter monument was voted the tenth ugliest building in the world by Virtual Tourist. Some Muscovites also consider it to be too pompous, out of place and disproportionate. They also complain that Tsereteli has a monopoly on Moscow monuments, to the detriment of younger artists. Yet he strongly supported the creation of the Moscow Museum of Modern Art in 1999, and it's now one of the city’s main cultural attractions.

But several of Tsereteli's white elephants are searching for a home. Offers of his statuary that have been rejected include monuments of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill in Yalta, (Ukraine), Magellan in Uruguay, the Colossus of Rhodes in Greece, FDR in New York and Balzac in France.

Take the towering 600-ton statue of Christopher Columbus... Please! Critics say the statue is awkwardly posed and disproportioned, with long arms, and a small head. Tseretelli wanted the monument installed in the US in 1992, the 500th anniversary of the explorer's voyage. But like the globe-trotting Genoan, his monument has also had an epic voyage. Titled "Birth of the New World," and twice the height of the Statue of Liberty, it was turned down by New York, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Baltimore and even Columbus, Ohio. When finally accepted by Puerto Rico it was to be erected in Catano, a seaside suburb of San Juan; but local residents protested. Besides being an aircraft hazard, the size of the work meant dozens of homes would have to be demolished to accommodate it. Next it sailed to Mayaguez to be a feature of the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games; but no suitable site could be located there. It was then headed for anchorage on the uninhabited island of of Desecheo when it was announced it would instead be installed in Arecibo. Now Jorge Santini, mayor of San Juan, said he’d like it installed in the capital city, and suggested three potential sites. According to Tseretelli's assistant Emily Madoff, welders from Russia are in Mayaguez and have begun assembling the work's 2,750 pieces.

Chris may be headed to port just before the storm. The man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is taking more heat lately than Governor Wallace riding through Harlem on a bicycle.
Last year a statue of Christopher Columbus in Providence (not one of Tseretelli's) was lathered in red paint and posted with a sign reading "murderer" during the Columbus Day holiday.

The seafaring Genoan really gets no respect down in Chavez's Venezuela. In 2004 on Columbus Day (which Venezuela renamed the "Day of Indigenous Resistance") a statue of the explorer that stood in downtown Caracas for100 years was torn down by a mob of men and women who dragged it, roped like Gulliver, through downtown Caracas to a theatre where hundreds of indigenous people were dancing and singing on their new holiday. The protesters urged the native peoples to bring Columbus to trial for his legacy of misdeeds 500 years ago.

Feedback on CC in PR is also negative: “Giant Columbus statue in Puerto Rico is like giant George Bush statue in Iraq,” says one tweeter. The Aboriginal News Group website posted a petition titled “We the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean say NO to a giant statue of Columbus,”.
Let's face it; Chris is nowhere near the top of the world-wide pop charts. Currently the 3 tallest statues on the globe are all of the same man- Buddha. The tallest, 450' (on a pedestal which brings it to 502') is in China. The runner-ups are in Myanmar and Japan. Of the top ten tallest monuments, five are in China, and five depict Buddha. Tseretelli's Peter the Great statue ranks only #8.

At 151' (305' including the pedestal) the tallest US statue is our Statue of Liberty, making it #19, a mere also-ran in the mega monument sweepstakes. But America has another horse in the race. Whenever it is  completed, the 564' Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota's Black Hills will surely lord over all.
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Chicago cable- CAN-TV, Channel 19: Monday 7PM, Tuesday 2PM                 Comcast- (Skokie system) 24 North suburbs – Ch. 19 (or 35): Tuesday, 6PM Comcast- (Elmhurst system) 41 West suburbs– Channel 19: Tuesday 7:30 PM    © Mike Morley 2011


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