J. Seward Johnson - Double Check

One Liberty Plaza - Liberty Street & Trinity Place - Manhattan, NYC

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  • Sheena Chi 7y

    Hamilton NJ - Grounds for Sculpture
    September 12, 2001

    The spontaneous memorial to 9/11
    By By Dan Bischoff
    Oct 21, 2005, 10:09

    J. Seward Johnson's "Double Check" -- the life-size bronze sculpture of a stockbroker peering into his briefcase that once sat in a park at the feet of the World Trade Center towers -- became an impromptu shrine after Sept. 11, 2001.

    People covered the statue, which had been dented by falling debris and pitted by caustic dust, with flyers printed with the names of the dead and missing. They stuffed the briefcase with roses and teddy bears, placed rescue unit arm patches in the statue's lap and put an FBI hard hat on its head. Photographs of the statue transformed into a pop shrine went around the world, becoming an eerie, eloquent expression of grief and resolve.

    At noon today Johnson will join Jersey City officials and 9/11 survivors for the dedication of "Makeshift Memorial" on the Colgate Hudson River Walkway in Jersey City, right across the river from Ground Zero.

    "Makeshift Memorial" is another cast of "Double Check" that Johnson has transformed with bolted-on bronze accessories into an imitation of the decorated, damaged original -- the roses, the hard hat, even cast-metal printed flyers. A new gray patina evokes the catastrophe's dust.

    "When the pictures of 'Double Check' were in the papers, I was so moved to get a letter from a woman (Sheila Langone of Roslyn Heights, N.Y.) who had lost a son in each tower," Johnson said in an interview. "Both her sons' names (Peter, a firefighter, and Thomas, a police officer) had been stuck to the back of my statue. She will be speaking at the unveiling."

    Amid all the controversy surrounding the rigidly minimalist designs for a memorial at Ground Zero, survivors' and victims' families have not forgotten "Double Check." At their request, Johnson said, the original, damaged "Double Check" (the toxic dust removed and replaced by a look-a-like patina) will ultimately be restored to a reconstructed Liberty Plaza Park that for months after the attacks served as a parking lot for emergency and cleanup vehicles. At the other end of the park, the city will erect a work that is the aesthetic polar opposite of Johnson's statue, a steel abstract sculpture by contemporary avant-garde art star Mark di Suvero, whose studio was a block away from the towers.

    "Makeshift Memorial" is the only planned 9/11 memorial to date that incorporates elements of the ephemera -- the snapshots, flowers and paper wall shrines -- that sprung up around Lower Manhattan after the aerial attacks.

    In a way, these spontaneous public expressions fit with Johnson's aesthetic. His hyper-realistic sculptures of human figures, which are designed to provoke a double-take response from viewers who might mistake them for real people, often have a jokey, populist gloss.

    "The art world doesn't like my stuff because it doesn't put quote marks around the word 'art,'" Johnson said.

    It is that lack of pretension that also makes "Double Check" an apt expression of the disaster. The nearly 2,800 people who died in the two hijacked airliners and in and around the collapsed commercial towers were simply going about their business, without the least notion that an epochal event was about to wrench them into history. Johnson's sculpture, its mundane realism intended only to insinuate its presence, echoes their innocence. The scarred and colorless surface of the damaged statue registers the shock of the rest of us who watched 9/11 happen, evoking the mournful presence of plaster casts of the dead from Pompeii.

    The statue that is the basis for "Makeshift Memorial" is one of seven originally cast "Double Checks," five of which have been sold. The damaged "Double Check" was on loan from Johnson when the planes hit the towers.

    Johnson took the cast that would become "Makeshift Memorial" out of a show in Germany shortly after 9/11 in order to transform it. On its way back to the United States, Johnson says, "(Italian Prime Minister) Silvio Berlusconi had it set up in Rome, where people covered it with flowers and notes of support and condolence for the United States."

    "Makeshift Memorial" can be seen as a monument more to survivors than to the dead. It immortalizes that moment of shared shock when people in New York and New Jersey spontaneously built their own art to express their own vision.

    Johnson, who is heir to the Johnson & Johnson health care products fortune, is the benefactor of Grounds for Sculpture, a 24-acre sculpture park in Hamilton Township. He also runs a sculpture school, the Johnson Atelier at the Grounds for Sculpture, which maintains one of a handful of top-notch art foundries in the United States.

    By Dan Bischoff
    Newark Star-Ledger

    Hamilton gfs 006

    9/11 Index

    Seen on your photo stream.(>?<)
  • ****Wolfcub**** 7y

    Gives new meaning to "living statue"
  • Love*2*Snap 7y

    I WILLLL be there after Christmas!!! Can't wait :)
  • Susan 7y

    Love this AND the "old" photo....How did I miss it?
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