Volume 17 • Issue 11 / August 06 - 12, 2004

20 years later, B.P.C. art moves to Foley Square

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

The Freedom of Expression National Monument by Laurie Hawkinson, John Malpede and Erika Rothenberg was originally part of the Art on the Beach exhibit in Battery Park City 20 years ago and will be back in Lower Manhattan starting Aug. 19.
For three months this summer and early fall, alternative arts organization Creative Time will re-install an interactive monument that twenty years ago encouraged freedom of expression and open dialogue in Battery Park City.

As part of its Art on the Beach program, in 1984 Creative Time commissioned New York architect Laurie Hawkinson and artists John Malpede and Erika Rothenberg to create a public soapbox at the Battery Park City landfill, the Freedom of Expression National Monument. Throughout the summer, the monument—an oversized red megaphone installed atop a flight of stairs—attracted thousands of New Yorkers who came to read poetry and voice their hopes and concerns.

When the exhibit ended, the monument was dismantled. But now, from August 19 – November 13, those living in Lower Manhattan will have the chance to express themselves at the monument once again. Along with the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Creative Time has commissioned Freedom’s artists to recreate the artwork in Foley Square.

“Creative time has always championed an artist’s right to be able to reach and engage broad audiences,” said Anne Pasternak, the group’s executive director. “And considering what’s going on nationally and how culture has changed over the years, there may not be many subjects as important and as timely as our freedom of expression.”

Inspired by Soviet agit-prop art, the original monument was installed before most of the neighborhood’s buildings were built. It pointed towards the Twin Towers, encouraging visitors to talk back to the symbols of economic and state power. The new monument will be sandwiched between the city’s federal, state, and city courthouses in Foley Square.

“Twenty years later, a lot has changed,” said Maureen Sullivan, Creative Time’s director of communications. “But a lot of the issues are still the same, and freedom of speech will be a big issue during this election period.”

The monument’s design will be identical to the 1984 installation, said Sullivan, with one exception—this time the artists will include decorative panels on the sides of the 21-foot platform. Pasternak hopes the exhibit will attract curious passersby and inspire them to think about freedom of expression in their community and the world in general.

“To be able to champion individual rights is a wonderful thing to be able to do,” she said. “Ultimately, art is about getting us all to think differently about our surroundings.”

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