Winged

by

09/22/2001

1 West side highway, ny, ny 10048

Neighborhood: World Trade Center

Last night, I attended a memorial service for an artist I knew, Michael Richards. He was fortunate to have been selected for the lower Manhattan cultural council’s program “world views’ (or something like that). He was unfortunate in that his studio was on the 92nd floor of Tower One.

I met Michael two years ago when I first came to the Studio Museum. He was in the first exhibition I was ever involved with there. To say the least, he was beautiful in every way. Not only was he awesome to look at, but his voice and nature were gentle and quiet and when he smiled, it was a mile wide. The museum offered their space for a service. It was heavy, is all I can say. Hundreds of people, family, friends, and acquaintances from various cultural institutions. It was truly moving to see how loved he was by so many people, and how for those, who didn’t know him, it was meaningful for them just to lose an artist. A most uncanny thing about all this is Michael’s art.

One of the pieces he installed is titled “Tar baby vs. St. Sebastian” It is a full body cast of himself in a sky diver’s jump suit. In cast resin with bronze plating, he stands monumental and tall; and instead of the arrows that pierce St. Sebastian, this figure is pierced by a dozen or more WWII airplanes. In other words this is a portrait of himself with planes crashing into him.

The second work Michael installed in this show is a piece called “Winged”. It is simply a cast of his two arms extended like wings, joined at the shoulders. Both arms are pierced with several featherlike daggers that enter at the topside of his arms and come out at the underside of his arms. This piece was suspended –– hung from the ceiling with monofiliment. About two weeks after this show opened; I got a call on a Saturday by a guard, telling me that the piece had fallen to the floor. The monofiliment snapped and Winged went crashing to the floor, shattering into a million pieces.

From the pile of broken parts, I kept one of his hands, and still have it in my office. Michael also worked as an art installer at various museums in the city. One woman, who worked with him at The Grey Art Gallery at NYU, spoke at the memorial service. She told us about the last conversation she had had with Michael, just three days before 9/11. She said it was one of those conversations about what you want from life – what you hope for. She told us that Michael said, emphatically, “I want to live hard. I want to love hard. I want to work hard, and then I want to die.”

On that Monday, before the Tuesday, I had a dream. I dreamed I was in a room of people. Some I knew, some I didn’t. There was a small child there, a little boy, about three or four years old. He played intently with some kind of toy in the middle of the room. I sensed that the adults harbored a secret from this boy. Then I learned what they knew. His mom had just been in an accident and had lost her life. After a while he started to ask for her. The tension in the room was so great, as no one wanted to break this tragic news to him. I felt it was wrong to leave him not knowing and wanted to end this discomfort. So, I crouched down to his height and I tried to explain to him that his mom was in an accident and that she had died.

He cried hard. He sobbed and he sobbed and he sobbed. But after a while, his sobbing changed to short breaths, then sniffles. Then it seemed his grieving stopped and he gradually engaged, once again, in play. It was then I knew that he would survive this. That this would not impact his life forever, and that he would know happiness. I then realized and considered someone would adopt him. Perhaps me. I am still processing all of this. The connections between the events of Tuesday, Michael Richards, the dream, the power of art and our lives in this world. It seems there is so much we don’t understand about how we operate in this universe, about ourselves, about each other. Perhaps this life is just a beginning. It’s questionable, and that’s all we know for sure.

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