by Jerry Saltz
World Trade Center Memorial Competition, Nov. 19-Dec. 31, 2003, at the Winter Garden at the World Financial Center, 220 Vesey Street, New York, N.Y. 10281
Because it's so heartbreakingly bad, the worst show of the year by far is the display currently on view at the Winter Garden of the eight models for memorials to those killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Unless the jurors halt the process, or public outcry overwhelms it, one of these models -- all of which resemble waiting rooms, food courts, corporate parks, underground malls, or airport architecture -- will be built. The day that happens will be a sad one.
It's not that all the proposals are horrible; a few have poetic details. One is an affecting cemetery in a forest and features trees planted in rows in the buildings' footprints. Among the trees are 2,982 "memorial columns," each with the name of a victim and some details about his or her life. Another plan has two evocative underground waterfalls. But none of the finalists, winnowed down from 5,201 entries by the 13 jurors of the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, capture the imagination. All are deeply derivative of Minimalism and generic installation art and offer only warmed-over pseudo solutions. Worst of all, none offers a significant form. There are waterfalls, gardens, trees and lights and New Agey names, like Garden of Lights, Inversion of Light, Votives in Suspension, Suspending Memory, or Dual Memory. In her Times op-ed piece, "Unbearable Lightness of Memory," Maureen Dowd aptly observed that these titles conjure "books by Deepak Chopra and Marianne Williamson," and employed the term "architectural Muzak" to describe the designs.