Art World Report Card: a 9/11 Museum Civil Rights Suit, an Art Fair Calender Shuffle, and Julian Schnabel’s Four Exhibitions

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9/11 Museum at the Crossroads
“But is it art?” is an old, even clichéd, question, but, for once, it really means something. Indeed, it could be just the solution we need.

Thirteen years ago, a cross-shaped steel beam was found in the wreckage of the World Trade Center. In proportion and appearance it has much the look of a crucifix, and it became something of a shrine in the weeks following the event, surrounded by flowers and flags. At issue going forward is whether the cross is, as a Today online reporter put it succinctly, “a religious symbol or a piece of history?”

An atheists group went to court last Thursday to block its inclusion in the National September 11 Memorial and Museum, a private nonprofit institution which will open later this year on government land. Or more precisely, the American Atheists seek to block its inclusion unless there is a similar salute to non-religious victims of the bombing—a plaque, specifically—placed in the museum.

Why all the fuss? Members of the American Atheists have said there is a potential for “mental anguish” if the “scrap metal” is included.

Beyond the fact that, at this point, no one should be filing yet another one of those distressing and increasingly absurd 9/11-related lawsuits, doesn’t this just raise a series of admittedly ill-mannered questions? Like: Isn’t this just way too low a threshold for mental anguish? And how, exactly, do you muster such passion for not believing in something? Finally, and to be even ruder, don’t we all secretly wish we had this much free time?

The original suit stated: “The challenged cross constitutes an unlawful attempt to promote a specific religion . . . diminishing the civil rights, privileges or capacities of atheist Americans” and those of other religions. So, this is what civil rights legislation is for? A lower court had already thrown out the case, ruling that the historical import of the cross trumped issues of religion.

The American Atheists counter that the inclusion of the cross can lessen the contributions of non-religious rescuers. This is absurd. What matters most is that the object became a comfort in the days following the attacks, and some of the so-called “first responders” have asked that it be included, which means arguably the opinions of myself and others, and possibly even the judge’s, are morally, though not legally, irrelevant. And so far, at least, the judge, Judge Reena Ragg, appears skeptical of the suit, asking “what is the problem here? . . . An argument has been made that you are trying to censor history.”

The battle seems to be over whether the object is an historical artifact or a crucifix, and that misses the point, and the loophole. As an item that has already been placed in a museum context—it was installed in the museum collection in 2011—it is, by most definitions, cultural property. So, to answer the question posed earlier: The cross—a quite beautiful 17-foot-high sculpture of steel—is art. And as art, protected under the First Amendment as freedom of expression, it belongs in the museum.

The Grand Tour-ists
A handful of major events for art collectors and dealers are being rescheduled in 2015, by weeks or months, though one only temporarily. And while few people are going to care about the travel itineraries of the jet set, within the trillion-dollar art industry the upheaval is akin to swapping the dates of the Oscars, Cannes, and Sundance and running some of those events smack into one another.

In 2015, Art Basel Hong Kong will take place in March, not May, placing it in nearly concurrent competition with the Armory Show and Art Dubai. The Venice Biennale, to be curated by Nigerian-born, Munich-based Okwui Enwezor, will open about a month earlier than usual, The Art Newspaper reported. Previews will begin about May 6th (exactly around the usual dates of the Frieze New York Fair).

Venice’s migration, however, applies so far only to 2015, say Italian officials, as the goal is to make the art event concurrent with Expo Milano, Italy’s first World’s Fair since Genoa in 1992. An elaborate food-themed event with the title of “Feeding the Planet,” it opens May 1st, 2015 and runs through October.

The silver lining to this calendar shuffle is that it finally gives New York City’s biggest fine-art fair, the Armory Show, an excuse to relocate from arguably the wettest, grayest, lousiest week of the year in the city, the first week of March, to any other time. The city has given the show discounts in the past for luring traffic to New York during an off-peak season, but perhaps those don’t offset the sheer unpleasantness of the current schedule.

Noah, get out your calendar.

Thinking Big
Four Julian Schnabel exhibitions open over the next few weeks around the world: one at Dallas Contemporary runs April 11th through August 10th, there will be two shows in New York (at Karma, opening March 26th and Gagosian, opening April 18th) and, finally, a Schnabel exhibition is at the Dairy Art Centre of London, opening April 26th. The Dallas show features 15 large-scale paintings done over the last decade. Exciting, but we hope he hasn’t given up that Hollywood thing.

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