September 16, 2002

September 11 Changed Art World

Gary Shapiro

From Tragedy to Unity Distinguished speakers – the polite and powerful – gathered at the Metropolitan Museum last Wednesday at a daylong interdisciplinary symposium entitled “From Tragedy to Unity: A Celebration of the Human Spirit.” The event, consisting of four panels on arts, sciences, business, and media, followed by a concert, was principally sponsored by the Virtue Foundation, which seeks a global ethic transcending religions.

Jim Fowler, TV personality, wildlife conservationist, and executive director of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, was the cheerful master of ceremonies. He told The New York Sun he believed much religious and political conflict was spawned by alienation from the natural world.

Met director Philippe de Montebello said that the museum had hung two chalkboards from its local fire station in the grand space of the American Wing as a reminder of the human dimension of September 11.

Discussion arose during the arts panel as to how works of art took on new meanings after September 11. Jasper Johns’ flag paintings, for example, were interpreted in a radical different way, MoMA director Glenn Lowry said. He added, “What is different from [Picaso’s] ‘Guernica’ or Pearl Harbor is that we all witnessed this. Art is usually about what we didn’t see. The rawness of September 11 was that very little was left to the imagination.”

When discussion turned to the difficulty foreign artists have entering America, Whitney Museum director Maxwell Anderson said, “Artists are the very people we need to import the most.” Mr. Anderson revealed that next summer the Whitney would mount “America Seen,” an exhibition of artists from around the world, largely in their 20s and 30s, with “very strong points of view about American culture and society and what it means for their own identity.”

State Senator Roy Goodman told a story about the origin of the name “United Nations.” President Franklin Roosevelt met with Sir Winston Churchill at the White House, where the pair had discussed the name “Affiliated Nations” and were retiring for the evening. In a flash, Mr. Roosevelt came up with “United Nations,” and headed back to tell Churchill, who was by then getting out of the bath. Churchill reassured an embarrassed Roosevelt, “The Prime Minister of Great Britain has nothing to hide from the President of the United States.”