Volume 19 Issue 50 | April 27 - May 3, 2007

“The Wall” artwork by “Frosty” Myers as it looked before it was taken down in 2002.

Higher, brighter ‘Wall’ will return to Soho

By Chris Bragg and Brooke Edwards

Soho’s well-known public artwork “The Wall,” which has been gathering dust in a basement for the past five years, will soon be rebuilt following an agreement between the work’s creator, the building that had fought the eight-story structure and the city.

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved the compromise to have advertising on part of the wall under “The Wall.”

“The Wall,” built by New York sculptor Forrest “Frosty” Myers, consists of 42 aluminum bars bolted to 42 steel braces. It was erected in 1973 on 599 Broadway, the building at the southwest corner of Broadway and Houston St. It soon became a Soho fixture.

The owners of 599 Broadway, however, filed a lawsuit saying “The Wall” prevented them from posting revenue-generating billboards on the north side of the building, which faces one of the busiest corners in Soho. They estimated the space was worth $600,000 annually. Tenants also claimed that physical damage to “The Wall” was causing leaking within the building. Eventually, the owners won a legal battle to have the artwork’s aluminum bars taken down.

But a deal now has been struck between the owners at 599 Broadway, Myers and New York City.

“This is a rare example of a wall that brings people together instead of dividing them,” Myers said in a statement.

Under the terms of the new agreement, 30 additional feet of exterior wall-space would be built so “The Wall” can be installed higher, allowing for the building to advertise at street level and also protecting the work from damage. In exchange, the building owners have agreed to pay for all the artwork’s restoration and maintenance costs. The sculpture would also be illuminated at night, for the first time ever.

“The sculpture will now be more prominent,” Myers said, “and the space between the advertising and the artwork will ensure that the advertising doesn’t detract from the artwork.”

At the Landmarks hearing, Meyers said he felt like he was growing old with the Commission. He joked about an upcoming book and film with the story behind “The Wall,” and said he hopes Brad Pitt will play his character.

He also delivered an Oscar-style speech during the meeting, thanking his wife for sticking by him through this long process. While there was no music to usher him off-stage, Robert Tierney, Commission chairperson, did cut the speech short in order to move along the meeting that was already running two hours behind.

Leni Schwendinger, who will be in charge of lighting the wall, also presented brief plans Tuesday. She will return to the Commission at a later time when the lighting scheme is more fully developed.

Sean Sweeney, president of the Soho Alliance, said the deal would restore “a work of art in Soho by one of the world’s most important minimalist artists.”

He said the deal was a result of years of effort at striking a compromise.

“The Soho Alliance, the artist and the Landmarks Commission really dug in their heels,” he said. “The owners figured this would drag on and it was better to have small advertising than no advertising, and we figured it was better to have a work of art than no art.”

“The Wall” survived numerous legal challenges throughout its history, until a federal judge found in 2005 that the artwork — which the owners had already taken down in 2002 for maintenance and to repair the building — was not technically part of the building at 599 Broadway. Therefore, the judge said, the building’s owners could not be forced to maintain the structure without compensation.

Sherman Kahn, Myers’s attorney, relayed an unusual offer from owners at 599 Broadway, which would completely eliminate the need to advertise under the artwork.

“If someone or some group covers the value of the expected advertising revenue,” Kahn said, “the advertising will be permanently removed, but the artwork will continue to be maintained.”

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