Aaron Bell (at left) talks about his sculpture as another man holds up an image of what it will look like when it is restored to its original design. Photo by Carol Tannenhauser.
By Carol Tannenhauser
It took ten minutes for civil rights attorney Norman Siegel and Alessandro Olivieri, General Counsel at the NYC Parks Department, to reach an agreement about the now-famous “noose sculpture,” unveiled in Riverside Park South yesterday.
West Side Rag broke the story about the parks department’s rejection of Aaron Bell’s original design for the Model To Monuments public sculpture program, a joint effort by the city and Art Students League. Bell’s design included a figure with a noose in place of a head, with a slash (banned) sign in the middle of the noose. The city, Bell said, forced him to alter the design to eliminate the noose. The New York Times and Post followed up on our story, and the free speech group National Coalition Against Censorship wrote a letter saying it “raises serious first amendment issues.”
“Stand Tall, Stand Loud,” by Aaron Bell, currently appears in its altered form – with an open mouth instead of a noose – but will be restored to Bell’s original design, “probably in time for the Fourth of July,” Siegel said. “Alessandro was terrific. He understood the First Amendment implications of not allowing Aaron to have his original expression. Recognizing there was a problem, without placing blame, we corrected it. So, there is a happy and just result to this artistic-expression story and we’re very pleased.”
“They extended an apology for denying me the opportunity to speak for my art,” Bell reported. “Then, they asked, ‘How long will it take to get it the way you want it?’ I said, ‘Two weeks.’ The piece was designed so the top could be removed, because, in the back of my mind, I knew this was going to happen. I wasn’t going to quit until it did.
“I feel like Muhammad Ali,” he smiled. “They told him to go to war and he said, ‘I’m not going and I’m not changing my position. I’m holding my ground.’ This is a victory not just for me, but for every artist who has ever been subject to censorship.”
“We are happy that we were able to come to agreement with Mr. Bell, who shared with us a vision of his piece that suits the site and conveys its message clearly and powerfully,” wrote parks department spokesman Sam Biederman.
In a response last week to the free-speech concern raised by the National Coalition Against Censorship, Parks Commissioner Mitchell Silver wrote that the parks department remains “committed to the free expression of ideas” and had “critiqued Mr. Bell’s original proposal for a lack of visual clarity.”
Siegel stressed the joint effort that brought about this result.
“Community Board 7 should be congratulated for passing a resolution calling for review,” he said. “And West Side Rag should be congratulated, along with the New York Post and The New York Times, because without all that community and journalistic expression, perhaps we couldn’t have turned it around.” Siegel also thanks NYC Park Advocates, run by Geoffrey Croft.
Norman Siegel stands with Aaron’s sister, Robin Bell.
You can see “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” at West 61st street and Riverside Drive.
“And West Side Rag should be congratulated, along with the New York Post and The New York Times, because without all that community and journalistic expression, perhaps we couldn’t have turned it around.”
This is terrific and another example of the importance of local journalism. The WSR’s coverage of CB7’s resolution led to the NYT’s coverage, which no doubt led to Mr. Siegel’s involvement, and to this happy outcome.
I AM VERY EXCITED FOR AARON THAT THIS GOT TURNED AROUND BRAVO TO ALL THE JOURNALISTIC EFFORTS AND THOSE OF MR. SIEGEL.
Kudos to all who turned this around so Aaron Bell could express himself in his art. I was at the event yesterday when Mr. Bell spoke so movingly about honoring his mother. Bravo!
An example of what can be accomplished when someone speaks and they are heard. “Stand Tall, Stand Loud” can now rightfully be viewed as Aaron Bell envisioned.
Good work, WSR!
Great reporting, as usual, by the WSR. The publicity generated by the article will have more people coming by to view the sculpture. A win-win situation all around.
All very nice but what does the sculpture convey ??? What’s the message ???
See the original story from May 18th for a number of comments that express a dissenting view.
“Jeremy” refuted the (melodramatic) charge of “censorship”:
I specifically pointed-out that,
“Reader” pointed-out that,
and argued that,
“Ricky” recounted an experience from many years ago, when, while walking in a different part of Riverside Park, he was shocked and disturbed to come-upon what he described as a realistic-looking noose hanging from a tree:
“robert” first argued that if the sculpture would have been approved in its original form, it would have likely generated objections from people claiming that such exhibition of a noose was “racist”. Robert then went-on to ask “Why not just leave a park a park”?, arguing that,
I absolutely agree.
And, finally, “m.pipik” argued that many of the people who would see the sculpture would inevitably misunderstand it and take offense. He, concluded, therefore, that,
Hurrrah for Justice.
What the Parks Dept. did to Mr. Bell was no different then Rudi Guilliani trying to ban pieces of art in the Brooklyn Museum or banning books in the library because the contents offended someone.
Giuliani did the right thing in that case. The Brooklyn Museum is a public, taxpayer-funded institution. To force millions of New Yorkers to fund or in any way promote a lurid, obscene desecration of their deepest beliefs and sensibilities was unacceptable. The object-in-question consisted of a painting of the Virgin Mary that was surrounded by pornographic cut-outs of female genitalia and covered in dung. That, for Christians, as radio commentator Jay Diamond pointed-out at the time, is no less offensive than if the same had been done to an image of their own mother.
Giuliani was a horrible person who had no business running a city as liberal as New York.