I recently took my three kids to LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, a museum, garden, and sculpture park founded by the eminent textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen. I was on a pilgrimage to see Eric Fischl’s “Tumbling Woman,” a bronze sculpture that the artist has said that he made in response to the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11.
The sculpture, of a naked woman tumbling through space, had first been shown at Rockefeller Plaza in 2002. It was removed shortly thereafter following a public outcry; it was viewed as too graphic a reminder of the 9/11 jumpers.
I had never seen the sculpture in person; I had only read about it and seen a picture in the paper. It is now part of the permanent collection at LongHouse. We showed up, paid the fee, and were let loose in the gorgeous surroundings.
I was looking at the map so I would be sure not to miss “Tumbling Woman,” when we stumbled on her: a fiery red figure made even redder against lush, green foliage.
When I first read about the sculpture, I was upset at the idea that Fischl would make a beautiful sculpture of one of the jumpers. I hesitate to write that word: jumpers. It doesn’t even feel right to call them that. I want a word that is more respectful. Maybe “choosers,” since what they really had to do was choose, to make the unthinkable choice of one death over another. But I guess that’s just as bad as what I thought Fischl had done; it’s just another form of beautifying, because obviously the choice of one death over another is not a choice.
The jumpers, the choosers, whatever you call them: they were here; they were us. And nothing about depicting them as beautiful seemed anything but wrong to me then, because—I thought at the time—beautifying something not-beautiful is wrong. I saw it as a denial.
When 9/11 happened I had only one kid; he was two months old, and I was with him in the apartment that day. My husband started to go to work. Then he saw one of the towers hit, from lower Sixth Avenue, and turned back and walked home. And in the years since then I have come to see things differently.
I stood there, in front of “Tumbling Woman,” years after 9/11 happened, and I told my kids that the artist Eric Fischl made this piece about the people who jumped to their deaths during the 9/11 tragedy, and that he depicted them with compassion, and that that was a brave thing to do.
Maybe it’s having kids, or getting older, but this is how I view it now: beauty is everywhere, all the time. And to be open to that—to acknowledge it and to be grateful for it—is a practice that takes courage. Because beauty is out of control in this world, and thank God.
Amy Fusselman is the editor of Ohio Edit.