German corporate giant AXA Art Insurance has become involved in a dispute over the fate of a World Trade Center monument that has the family members of 9/11 victims and the Port Authority in a tug-of-war over the fate of the so-called Koenig Sphere.
A massive bronze sculpture, "The Sphere" was designed by German artist Fritz Koenig for the plaza between the Twin Towers as a symbol of peace through global commerce. After the catastrophe of 9/11, however, the battered sphere became a symbol of something rather different — a sort of found-object tribute to an American spirit that had been battered but was unbowed. In 2002, it was installed in Battery Park with an eternal flame as a memorial. Now, with the park set to be renovated this summer and the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero still not open, the sphere is set to go into storage, and some 9/11 family members are angry that the sculpture is being whisked out of sight.
Enter AXA. After the amNewYork daily paper reported on the competing claims on the Koenig Sphere, the Cologne-based AXA stepped forward to reveal that, in fact, it is the rightful owner of the sculpture, and should have say over its location. AXA insured much of the art in the World Trade Center for the Port Authority, and — after paying some $7.2 million in claims — became the legal owner of the symbolism-laden sphere.
As a result, the company is weighing in on the current dispute. "We have rightful title to that piece and do not want it to go into storage," AXA claims director Colin Quinn told amNY. Quinn said that AXA had allowed the Port Authority to keep the sphere under the condition that it be displayed in a public space. AXA also mandated that a plaque acknowledge the donation from the company, though this apparently never happened.
As for the Port Authority, the agency was still sorting out how to deal with conflicting claims — emotional and legal — on the Koenig Sphere. "We have been in touch with the insurance carrier today and are trying to resolve some of the issues," a Port Authority spokesman told amNY. "They will be a part of the decision-making process."
News of AXA's rights to the popular Sphere offer the latest occasion for controversy when it comes to the ongoing debates over the character of the World Trade Center memorial itself, which has become a flash point for right-wing populist anger. Well-respected New York nonprofit the Drawing Center was chased away from its plans to be part of the memorial, following a campaign to paint the institution as insensitive to victims.
In an opinion piece in the New York Daily News on January 25, 9/11 family member Michael Burke (who in the past has railed against the closing of Guantanamo Bay and spoken out against the "Ground Zero Mosque") denounced the current 9/11 memorial plans for not including the Koenig Sphere, among other things. Calling the design a sanitized "tribute to the narcissism of elitist intellectuals, artists and politicians," Burke attacked the jury for including Maya Lin, whose Vietnam War Memorial he branded an "esoteric, minimalist work of art" that does not include evidence of the actual tragedy it is depicting — artifacts like "The Sphere," an artifact of real devastation.