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Saratoga Arts’ Tempered by Memory Sculpture: An Apparent End to the Controversy

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Saratoga Arts’ Tempered by Memory Sculpture

The 9/11 Memorial Stirs up Controversy, and Finds a Home

Tempered by MemoryOn August 16, 2011 as the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was fast approaching, the Saratoga Springs City Council met to decide the fate of Saratoga Arts’ 9/11 Memorial Project, Tempered by Memory.” Initially the sculpture was to be unveiled in time for the 9/11 observation, but there has been such controversy surrounding the project that the sculpture, now completed, is currently sitting in a Gansevoort steelyard.

As 9/11 came, tensions were set aside and a private ceremony was held by Saratoga Arts to remember the lives lost ten years ago, as well as to recognize the efforts of those involved with the sculpture.

The biggest debacle over Tempered by Memory has been about finding an appropriate place for it. The new City Center, the lawn of the Visitor’s Center, at the Lake Avenue Firehouse, and the New York State Military Museum have all been viable options; while others think the sculpture doesn’t belong in Saratoga at all. Finally, as of December 21, 2011, it was decided that the memorial would find its home in High Rock Park.

Tempered by Memory is a 25-foot tall contemporary sculpture created out of steel from the wreckage of the World Trade Center’s North and South towers. In the spring of 2010, officers stationed at the Saratoga Springs Naval Support Activity contacted and encouraged Saratoga Arts to request pieces of WTC steel from the Port Authority of NY and NJ’s WTC distribution program. Saratoga Arts pursued the pieces, as well as two local sculptors, Noah Savett and John Van Alstine, to create the memorial. According to Saratoga Arts, “the artists chose five pieces of steel that were both stable and flexible, giving them the opportunity to organically experiment with different design and construction concepts…while maintaining the integrity of the steel and their unique forms.”

Sculptors Noah Savett and John Van AlstineSince the sculpture’s completion in September 2011, it has remained in Savett’s fabrication plant in Gansevoort. Aside from the debate over where the sculpture would go, harsh words have been cast over the aesthetics of the sculpture. Even art critics and artists disagree over abstract art, and because the sculpture is so contemporary, something of its caliber would be expected to be essentially contested.  At a City Council meeting, one resident called the sculpture “a twisted monstrosity” and another described pieces of it as “meat cleavers”, even bringing forth safety issues. Amejo Amyot, a local arts activist and one of the founders of the Beekman Street Arts District has also been vocal about the sculpture, calling it “a pile of steel; an embarrassment; and one of the least artistic sculptures that she has ever seen.”

Perhaps it is not the structure that is ugly–art is and always has been subjective, but the controversy surrounding the memorial has certainly gotten ugly. Residents complained about where the sculpture would go, the sculpture’s appearance, about the process of the memorial, and even going as far as to claim some have politicized the sculpture for partisan gain. Claiming it to be shrouded in secrecy, only once these issues were brought to the attention to the city of Saratoga, the mayor began appointing committees to start making some decisions.

While in fact there has been a level of secrecy from the beginning, (the Arts Council thundered ahead with project), in all fairness, as a project commissioned by the Arts Center, no tax dollars have gone into the $196,000 project cost (which was in the form of donated services, equipment, labor and time). When an undertaking like this has been brought to the attention of an entire city, there will always be disagreements between people.

It’s unfortunate that something that was meant to bring the city together has caused such controversy, but now that Tempered by Memory has a home, opposing sides can be at peace with the City’s decision. This whole debate must bring back memories for some long-time residents– in 1988 an almost identical situation was unwinding as Saratoga was once again divided over a carousel they purchased from Kaydeross Park. City council meetings turned ugly as residents were unable to decide as to where the carousel would be best suited. The mayor initially proposed High Rock Park, and ultimately it ended up in Congress Park, despite the Saratoga Springs Preservation Foundation’s unanimous vote against it, claiming it would disrupt the park’s quiet environment. Just think of what Congress Park would be like today without the carousel.

At the time the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was completed in 1982, it generated more controversy than any work of architecture in recent history. People were up in arms, claiming it was not a work of art or an appropriate memorial (some were even offended that the sculptor, Maya Lin, was of Asian descent), yet today it is the most visited memorial in Washington. Hopefully twenty years from now, Saratoga will be saying the same thing about the Tempered by Memory memorial. Whether you disagree with the placement, aesthetics or process of the memorial, remember what the memorial stands for.

Aubree Cutkomp is an Assistant Editor for The Free George.

The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.

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