The desire to commemorate the lives lost during the World Trade Center attacks of September 11, 2001 has served as the message behind thousands of grand tributes across the world. Artists and architects have responded to the tragic events with famous works of art, best-selling novels, blockbuster films, and of course, widely visited sculptures and memorials. However, the tribute, “To the Struggle Against World Terrorism”– or the “Teardrop memorial” as it’s more commonly known– seems to slip the minds of people everywhere despite its grandeur.
Erected in 2006 by Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli, the Teardrop memorial is an imposing 10-story, Bronze-plated sculpture located in Harbor View Park in Bayonne, New Jersey. The work was a gift from Russia to memorialize victims of terrorism in the U.S.
The focal point of the piece, a massive teardrop made of nickel, hangs from the top of the sculpture, suspended between jagged edges that have been carved out of the middle of the piece. Then on the bottom of the sculpture are granite plates bearing etchings of the names of the victims of 9/11 as well as the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The idea behind the design is to touch on the grand scale of heartache that terrorism causes, while the jagged opening is supposed to frame Manhattan and the site of the twin towers if the viewer is standing in the correct spot. Then in 2011, a piece of steel from the World Trade Center was also placed next to the site.
So how is it that such a large dedication to such an important and personal event has been able to fall by the wayside? The answer is far from concrete, but many theories have popped-up in an effort to explain the general penumbra of forgetfulness that seems to surround the sculpture.
First off, the sculpture has a legacy of controversy since its inception as it was actually intended to be placed in Jersey City before it was rather suddenly rejected, thus winding up in Bayonne. One theory is that the sculpture is just plain ugly. While some thought the initial design of the piece to be a powerful message about international terrorism generously donated by Russia, others considered it tacky and less than visually appealing– or as local artist Leon Yost told the New York Times in 2004, “It’s insensitive, it’s heavy-handed, it’s simplistic, it’s a cliché. Other than that, what’s not to like?” Foreign Policy Magazine even called it one of the world’s ugliest statues.
This was a broad opinion of many of Tsereteli’s art in general—he had already received backlash for work he’d done in Russia such as putting 74 life-sized busts of czarist royalty in the middle of St. Petersburg.
Then, others blame the memorial’s shadow on the fact it was a gift from Russian president Vladimir Putin. Pro Arts Jersey City even referred to it as “an insensitive, self-aggrandizing piece of pompousness by one of the world’s blatant self-promoters.”
However, some have praised the piece for its meaning, with Bill Clinton thanking the artist for “capturing the remarkable feelings that go beyond words” at the 2006 dedication ceremony. Today, despite its rocky start and continuing controversy, the sculpture stands steady and continues to serve as a one of the many artistic odes to victims of terrorism.