The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York
69. (Lower West Side)
On an overcast day in 1993 an artist arranges some scraps of wood and bits of water-logged litter next to a concrete Jersey barrier being used to block off an empty expanse of asphalt on Manhattan’s West Side. In the photograph he takes of this casual-looking arrangement, which seems to rise from a puddle left by a recent rainstorm, we can see in the distance a swath of the New York City skyline. It takes most viewers only a moment to grasp the artist’s intention: the street trash has been positioned to visually echo the distant skyscrapers. For the first eight years of its existence, the photograph derives its main impact from the nearly absurd contrast between the ephemeral, impoverished nature of the artist’s soggy assemblage—no doubt soon to be swept away by weather or by the New York City Sanitation Department—and the towering iconic buildings in the background, but when the two tallest structures are destroyed in a terrorist attack that takes the lives of almost 3,000 New Yorkers, it suddenly looks as if art, even art made with the flimsiest of materials, may be more lasting than the grandest symbols of wealth and power, and the photograph, which at first seemed an exercise in whimsicality, now becomes an image of mournful prophecy.