A few days ago, this column talked about “#Raging Bull” - the massive bronze poised to charge in #New York’s financial district - and how sculptor Arturo Di Modica is trying to get the statue of “Fearless Girl” kicked off the same street by claiming it violates his rights under the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA).
The law, passed by the Congress in 1990, protects artworks from modification and apparently, this artist thinks that the sight of a defiant little girl, who looks like a kid balking at bedtime, minimizes the might of his beast.
Di Modica has no more right to invoke VARA than, say, Michelangelo would objecting to the Vatican painting loin cloths on the bare bodies of the 300-plus figures in his fresco “The Last Judgment” on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel. The law didn’t exist when either the painting or the sculpture were created.
Taking down a storytelling tree
Now comes another VARA case, this time begun by sculptor Steve Tobin on behalf of his 18-foot-tall bronze “Trinity Root.” And unlike “Raging Bull,” this lawsuit falls well within the parameters of the law. Tobin installed his sculpture in the #Trinity Church courtyard in lower Manhattan in 2005.
Then in 2015, it was taken away to a church property in Connecticut and damaged in the process. Tobin has clear protection under the law, not only on account of the damages but also owing to a significant modification.
The work commemorates the giant sycamore in the church courtyard destroyed when fragments from the collapse of the World Trade Center struck it down. VARA also disallows moving an artwork designed for a specific site.
Thinning out a crowd
Trinity Church rector Dr. William Lupfer told the press that he sent the sculpture away“ out of concern that it attracted “hordes of strangers” congregating in the courtyard. Tobin was assured that his sculpture arrived in good condition, but he saw “significant damage” when the church sent him photos. His attorney, Steven S. Honigman, has filed a lawsuit in Manhattan’s Federal District Court.
Lost in translation
Taking away the sculpture “Trinity Root” and sticking it in Connecticut far from the place where the tree it replaced went down, also takes away its meaning. Trinity Church doesn’t seem to get it. A statement given to the press says that the relocation of the Bronze “will encourage prayerful reflection, remembrance and spiritual transformation.” As this column sees it, Tobin has an open and shut case. Still, one is left wondering how anyone in New York, a city famed as the art center of the world, would abuse artists this way, not to mention that his work commemorated the Twin Tower tragedy.