Forrest Frosty Myerss Soho public artwork, The Wall, below left, is at the center of a federal court battle. Above, Myers in his Brooklyn studio.
Hard to read the writing on the wall in Wall case
By Ronda Kaysen
You might call it a wall-to-wall mess down at City Hall. A federal judge hearing the case of The Wall, a decades-old art installation in Soho, has asked lawyers from both sides to file additional briefs, delaying a decision until at least next month.
Now its just horrible that this thing will go on for another month, Forrest Frosty Myers, the installations artist, told The Villager in a telephone interview. It was terribly disheartening
. We left the trial in more of a vague state than we came in.
The trial is the latest manifestation of an eight-year-old legal dispute over whether 42 beams affixed in 1973 to a blue-painted exterior wall on the north side of 599 Broadway can be permanently removed from the landmarked district.
The dispute pits the condo owners, Soho International Arts Condominium, who would like to replace the artwork with income-generating advertisements, against the citys Landmarks Preservation Commission and Myers, who insist The Wall is a site-specific piece of artwork protected under the citys landmark laws.
After two days of testimony last week and closing arguments, Judge Deborah Batts requested up to 25 pages of additional briefs from both sides by March 31.
I wish she had said no more than 10 [pages], joked Richard Altman, Myers pro-bono lawyer, who was surprised when Batts requested another round of paperwork. Altman is not concerned about meeting the looming deadline, however: Lawyers always think of something to say.
Jeffery Braun, the lawyer for the condo owners, suspects Batts will rule fairly quickly after she collects the next round of briefs. Regardless, he has taken a fatalistic approach to the waiting game: Its in the judges hands now, he said, although he too is preparing legal briefs.
Both sides are arguing that the other owns the beleaguered artwork, which was temporarily removed in 2002 to restore the actual wall beneath. If the judge rules that Soho International Arts owns the wall, then the condo owners are required by city law to maintain the landmark affixed to it. But if the artist or Doris Freedman, the late patron who commissioned the work, is deemed The Walls rightful owner, then the city cannot force the buildings owners to maintain someone elses property.
Whats perplexing is [that] the judge didnt just throw the argument out, Myers said of the condo owners claim. It makes me nervous. Maybe she wants to go the other way.
Myerss lawyer has a different outlook on the judges ruling: Who knows how Batts will rule, Altman said, adding that the trial will not be the final word on The Wall. Regardless of who wins, the case will likely be appealed. It is very clear that this is not the end, he said.