In 1967, a German sculptor named Fitz Koenig received a commission by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to install a work of art to be featured on the Austin J. Tobin Plaza situated between Word Trade Center’s twin towers, which were being built at the time. Koenig created a 20-ton cast bronze sphere 17 feet in diameter mounted on a disk pedestal positioned in the middle of a water fountain. Anyone visiting the plaza could pause to witness the largest bronze sculpture in the world at that time. After the twin towers fell in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Koenig’s Sphere, though seriously damaged, was the only work of public art at the World Trade Center that survived the destruction.
The sculpture was removed from the wreckage and brought back to Manhattan six months later and reinstalled in Battery Park, several blocks from its original location. It was later moved to Liberty Park. Ironically, Koenig’s Sphere was dedicated in 1971 to “world peace through trade.” The Sphere represents a remarkable example of how a work of art can take on a whole new meaning for the public based on outside forces that transform the piece, literally and figuratively. Upon its rededication, Koenig’s Sphere was recognized as “an icon of hope and the indestructible spirit of this country.”
I have written in a previous blog post about the value of public gardens, which I define as those that are open and free for everyone to enjoy at no cost. In a similar fashion, public art offers an opportunity for people to experience creative expression in almost endless media, shapes, sizes, colors, and settings. Large cities all over the world are adorned with magnificent art in public places, but even the smallest towns and villages show pride in their communities with various art installations, modest as they may be. They may take the form of a sculpture honoring a benefactor of a local garden, which is a wonderful way of celebrating two different treasures available to the public.
Municipalities often use statues or murals to draw attention to important figures in the history of their communities or significant events from the past. Then again, statues can be whimsical or can portray a particular type of character, including those from works of fiction or fairy tales. Wildlife is a frequent subject of public art too, which all ages tend to appreciate. Some businesses install works of art in front of their locations for the public to enjoy, which also attract customers and can even assist with brand recognition. Sometimes a statue or other work of art can have a dual purpose: as a stand-alone piece that also serves as a planter, an entrance, a directional sign, or any number of other functions.
Museums and galleries that charge admission fees will often have several pieces of art located outside their buildings for people passing by to see. Better yet, some of them include free walking trails on their grounds featuring artwork that is usually quite spectacular and impressive in size and concept. Most valued and valuable works of art in the world are kept in secure, climate-controlled buildings and guarded closely. Access to these treasures is primarily limited to those who can afford admission fees; however, many of the world’s most famous art museums open their doors to the general public for free, at least several times annually. How fortunate are the folks who can take advantage of opportunities to see first-hand the works of the masters from centuries past. But we should never take for granted the art that surrounds us wherever we go. It’s there, and some of it is absolutely amazing.