Suse and Peter Lowenstein have withdrawn their offer to give Ms. Lowenstein’s sculpture “Dark Elegy” to East Hampton Town for placement in Montauk’s Kirk Park, “with much regret.”
The sculpture was created to memorialize victims of terrorism, particularly the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in which the Lowensteins’ son Alexander lost his life. It features 74 larger-than-life unclothed figures of grieving mothers, wives, and grandmothers who contacted Ms. Lowenstein to share their remembrances of their postures in the throes of grief.
The couple presented the idea and an overview of the sculpture at a town board meeting in May. The board said it would solicit the public’s opinion about the gift. Since then the proposed display of the sculpture at Kirk Park has engendered numerous letters to the editor and calls and emails to Town Hall, both pro and con.
Those in support of a permanent home for “Dark Elegy” in Montauk underscored its place as an emotional and moving tribute to any loss and to the effect of all acts of terrorism.
Those against the idea, while almost always acknowledging the Lowensteins for their offer and regretting their loss, raised questions about the emotional impact of the sculpture, the nudity, and the appropriateness of positioning it so centrally at Kirk Park.
In a letter of their own to The Star this week, the Lowensteins said that “after serious and amicable discussion with [Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Town Supervisor], it was made clear to us that this gift is seen to be having the effect of dividing the town of East Hampton; specifically Montauk.”
“We do not want to initiate a split among the residents of the town we love,” the couple said. The opposition to a permanent home in Montauk for the sculpture “is very disappointing,” they wrote.
The sculpture has been on display for many years in the Lowensteins’ garden in Montauk at 11 East Lake Drive. It is open to the public daily, all year round, from 10 a.m. to noon. Thousands come each year to see the piece, including many affected by the World Trade Center attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
The couple had proposed having the original work, of steel and synthetic stone, cast in bronze. The cost of that, which Ms. Lowenstein described earlier this year as a “multimillion-dollar project,” would be paid with the Lowensteins’ portion of the $2.7 billion compensation payment made to the families of Lockerbie victims by Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s Libyan government, which acknowledged responsibility for the bombing in 2003.
“We didn’t want to spend it for anything else but this,” Ms. Lowenstein had said of the money. The couple had also offered to cover the cost of moving and installing the work.
The sculpture has been exhibited in a number of communities throughout the Northeast. A proposal sponsored by Representative Tim Bishop to have it installed in Washington, D.C., was rejected in 2008 by the National Capital Memorial Advisory Commission, because the work was “too raw” and not generic enough as a tribute to victims of all acts of terrorism, Ms. Lowenstein said in May.
Mr. Cantwell said yesterday that there had been “significant input” from residents about the sculpture, and that “it seems fairly certain from those discussions . . . there’s a difference of opinion about whether locating ‘Dark Elegy’ at Kirk Park is a good thing or not.”
“I think this was a gracious gift offer,” he said. “And it makes a profound, worldwide statement about terrorism.” But, the supervisor said, for him it was “always a question about how does the community of Montauk feel about using Kirk Park for this artwork. It seems clear to me, Montauk is split.” To accept the gift and site it there, he said, “would require much stronger support.”
The Montauk Historical Society, which is planning a Native American museum on the Second House property adjacent to Kirk Park, was among the supporters of the offer.
The East Hampton Arts Council, a fairly new advisory committee to the town board, has recommended revolving, rather than permanent, art installations at public sites.
Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who has worked to spearhead the use of the town-owned Duck Creek Farm property for several art installations, said yesterday that he would like to see management plans created for public sites outlining allowable uses, including art exhibits. “It’s important to have art in public places,” he said. “It’s equally important to have it done in an orderly way.”
Mr. Van Scoyoc said that he had hoped that another suitable site could be found in the town for “Dark Elegy.” The Lowensteins’ offer, he said, was “very generous. It’s a very, very moving piece.”