Volume 74, Number 20 | September 22 - 28 , 2004

Talking Point

Feeling low after Cooper’s painting over ‘Forever Tall’

By Keith Crandell

It is as if the 9/11 mural was never there, at the corner of Sixth St. and Cooper Sq. — just as if the World Trade Center towers had never been there.

This writer is saddened indeed at the decision of Cooper Union to obliterate “Forever Tall,” the splendid mural created just after 9/11. The mural memorialized the city skyline as it appeared before the towers themselves had been obliterated.

Now, the north wall of Dolphins restaurant is the same cocoa brown as the rest of the building. In July, Cooper, which owns the building, Dolphins, its tenant, and an agent who had been hired to lease out the wall space for an advertising poster, had defaced the mural by painting “Wall for Rent” over part of it. 

Cooper Union completed the obliteration by painting it over just after Community Board 3 had placed the defacement on its September agenda — and only hours after the third anniversary of 9/11.

Yet there is still a chance for Cooper to redeem itself.

Simple: Admit its mistake and ask the young artists, Hope Gangloff and Jason Search, to do it over. After all, the wall is as ready as it will ever be for repainting. I raised this possibility last week with a Cooper vice president, after describing my years of warmth for Cooper and the special distress I felt for Cooper’s behavior. Why does this hit me personally? Because I have long had a soft spot in my heart for Cooper. My oldest and dearest friend matured and studied art there. My late sister studied art there. My wife, a painter, takes courses there. A close friend is on the art faculty. (He told me a while back that he’d teach there for free because of the quality of the students.) And how can you help but love a tuition-free school that bears the stamp of Peter Cooper, who believed that education should be “as free as air and water.”

If truth be known, I’ve always been willing to cut Cooper Union a little slack in its scuffles with the community.

So I made my proposal to Cooper V.P. Ronni Denes last week, pointing out that they might regain some of the community goodwill that has been eroded during the school‘s heavy-handed building program. She did not exactly leap at the suggestion.

Reasons why it can’t be done:

We need the wall revenue. (Humbug. They’ve never received or even sought any revenue from the wall.)

Cooper can’t afford to pass up possible income. (Humbug. On Cooper’s old parking lot on the south side of Astor Pl., Related Properties is erecting a 22-story tower; the dinky rental from this two-story poster site is chickenfeed next to the income from Related’s tower.)

Wrong place for a 9/11 memorial; they’re building a real memorial Downtown. (Humbug. The one they’ll build Downtown will be pretentious; the Gangloff-Search mural, built in view of the twin towers, is simple, almost spontaneous and has already won the love of the community.)

People will think that it is supposed to be up forever. (Is that such a bad thing? It just so happens that I saw the towers burning from this very site on that fateful morning three years ago.)

I throw out one more reason for reinstalling “Forever Tall”: Across Seventh St. to the north is the Hewitt Building, which Cooper will soon demolish and replace with a larger and grander steel-and-glass building, which Cooper describes as the linchpin of its ambitious academic and financial plan. If this is indeed to be so, Cooper’s upper crust will hardly want their linchpin offices looking out over a poster for Tommy Hilfiger underdrawers. Or whatever.

Wouldn’t it be far more appropriate to have this linchpin building look out over a mural rich in meaning, respected by the community and created by Cooper Union graduates?

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