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World Trade Center Artists Mount Exhibition - 2001-12-04

A group of artists who lost their studios at the World Trade Center and much of their work on September 11 is coming back with an exhibition dedicated to one artist who died in the attack.

The studios on the 91st and 92nd floors of the World Trade Center had breathtaking views.

The 15 artists working there were part of World View, a residency program run by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. They were scheduled to show their work in October, but most of their art perished on September 11. Their exhibition at the New Museum of Contemporary Art is dedicated to Jamaican-born artist Michael Richards, who died in the attack.

The Council director, Liz Thompson, describes Mr. Richards as a "profoundly bright artist." On the night of September 10, he decided to stay in his studio to work through the night on a sculpture about the Tuskegee Airmen, a segregated unit of African-American pilots during World War II. "Here was an artist who was in his studio because he was on a tear," he said. "He was really in the middle of a piece that had him in his grips. You know that's what happens to artists. You start getting involved in something and it takes over."

One of Mr. Richard's older sculptures is on display in the exhibition. But most of the art was created after September 11 and bears the marks of the tragedy.

In his most recent art, Iranian-born Mahmoud Hamadani tackles the hardships endured by two cities he knows and loves. "Ode to Kabul" is a collection of meticulous drawings, representing old cosmopolitanism. "Ode to New York" is a modern work of toppled white cubes in a pile on the floor.

Mr. Hamadani says the attack means more than material loss. "It was not really the personal loss that mattered really because the dimensions of the tragedy were so broad," he said. "They were so huge that not me and not any of the artists that I know talk about it. But artists do things because they're moved by phenomena, so their work is an expression of how they're moved. In this case they were assaulted. We were violently shaken and the exhibition that we see here today is an expression of how we were shaken by what happened at the World Trade Center."

For many of the artists, the vast structure of the World Trade Center was a source of inspiration. And so is its destruction.

Israeli photographer Naomi Ben-Shahar filmed one of the last videos from the Twin Towers on the night of September 4. At a party in the studios, about 50 people held light bulbs as they danced. The bulbs blended with the lights from buildings outside in a rush of urban glow.

Ms. Ben-Shahar says the video, which is on display, illustrates how she grappled as an artist in a space that epitomized the corporate world. "I was interested in subverting that very corporate environment, very structured buildings and by just coming up with this wild party with a DJ and the way of looking at lights rather than the structure and making it more flow," said Ms. Ben-Shahar. And about the flow and about a crazy happy event that was happening there. That was kind of my reaction, [my] very strong reaction to this place."

Another video shows the World Trade Center's revolving doors, capturing people dressed for work, entering and leaving the building that is no more.

One visitor to the exhibition, Wendy Keys, says she was moved by the many depictions of the World Trade Center. "It's difficult to look at, it makes you sad, but it's good to see," she said. "We'll be seeing more and more of this I'm sure, artists interpreting the events and this is the first time I've seen things after the fact, so it's helpful.

About $1 million of art and supplies were destroyed on September 11. Much of it is irreplaceable but, as the exhibition shows, the artists' inspiration lives on.