Millions in Artwork Destroyed at WTC

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, amid the mountain of twisted steel and endless debris, a 15-foot bronze globe stood cracked and wounded — a sculpture by Fritz Koenig, meant to signify world peace through world trade.

It was just one of the hundreds of pieces of art damaged or destroyed at Ground Zero.

"The World Trade Center was not just a collection of buildings," said Saul Wenegrat, the former art director for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operated the Trade Center. "It incorporated the creative energies of a lot of magnificent people."

Magnificent artists who created magnificent works — a giant tapestry from Miro, a wood relief from Louise Nevelson, a 25-foot-tall metal sculpture from Alexander Calder.

Art Was Part of Plan

In fact, when the World Trade Center was built in the 1960s and '70s, one percent of the budget was set aside for artwork. The architect called for pieces in specific places to draw people into the area.

"One of the kind of things about the World Trade Center was that it was so monumental in terms of height, on ground level the sculptures help bring us back," said Tom Eccles, director of the Public Art Fund.

In truth, the monetary value of the works is hard to measure, though it is at least in the tens of millions. Much of the work was public art never meant to be bought or sold, just enjoyed.

"The artwork basically shows what human beings can do to improve our lives," Wenegrat said. "It shows to future generations what previous generations have done."

While pieces like the Miro tapestry were destroyed — perhaps atomized — when the buildings collapsed, parts of a few works did survive. Recovery crews spotted fragments of the huge Calder piece — chips of its bright red paint still visible.

Its steel now is twisted and scarred like the skeletons of cars and trucks taken from Ground Zero, and like the remains of the Trade Center itself, which many want to see preserved as a memorial.

"They now have a different iconic meaning," said Karen Yager, an art conservator. "They've absorbed the tragedy. They've absorbed the horror of the event. And so they carry the weight of the culture post September 11th."

The art and the buildings were meant to last forever. Now if they are preserved, it will be as a reminder of one of history's most horrifying events.