What appears as white in this photo, flickered with bold strokes of yellow, red, orange and blue, and as the sun passed over the pitted and painted surface of the highway, the color would make it seem as if indeed the concrete bloomed with as much exuberance as any summer garden. Those who walked along the highway laughed; those above smiled when they saw the walkers stop and suddenly pirouette amongst imagined flowers in an imagined field, which really did happen.
The painting disappeared long before the towers fell, but it remained undisturbed on the surface of the highway for five years before the highway was chiseled away. Then, enormous cranes lifted the great slabs of painted concrete with twisted rebar hanging out onto flatbed trucks that drove slowly down to the docks, where the last of the highway and the painting on its surface were loaded onto ships to be finally dumped far out to sea.
Roderick Mason Faber, drama critic of NY's Village Voice, reviewed the finished work. He wrote:
Ever since the two of them went up, I’ve been wishing there were three towers to the World Trade Center. Now I needn’t harbor such perverse trinitarian longings. The twin towers have acquired a suitably overscale sibling in what may be the world’s largest painting.
Literally danced onto the cratered pavement of the West Side Highway by Tia Ballantine and Brendt Berger (with the help of broom-handled rollers), the 800-by-75 feet painting used up more than 130 gallons of permanent exterior government-surplus paint. The two artists, decorated veterans of the downtown art struggles, each wore out a pair of shoes in the fortnight it took to complete the mammoth elevated carpet. No permit to paint was asked for and none granted; it is now a fait accompli of the cityscape and is so recognized. A first rate city-certified Calder stabile stands hidden like a discarded toy in the shadow of the painting at the base of the North Tower.
Ballantine and Berger did much of the initial work on the painting under the cover of darkness. I have seen an entire Albanian shantytown built almost overnight on the hipbone of the Acropolis, but this is a feat of a different order: it is meant to be a serious act of play, art in the spirit of Philippe Petit and George Willig. Paul Klee once said that all pictorial art “springs from movement, is itself fixed in movement, and is perceived through movement.” Ballantine and Berger call their piece “a dance, a marriage ceremony.” They do not call it Conceptual Art, where the static documentation of the work becomes the work itself.
Although the painting can be (and has been) jogged on, slept on, ridden on, somersaulted on, and walked in, as one walks in a pathless garden, it is ideally seen from above, especially from the towers. Tiepolo painted for observers who bent over backwards in order to look up; Berger and Ballantine, for those who look down. We no longer build churches with Tiepolo’d ceilings; in this relentlessly secular city we build planetariums. Now the heavens as we see them are brought indoors, contained even in movies like 2001 and Star Wars. Ballantine and Berger put the observer, not the work of art, in the sky. They do this not so the earth that is looked down on may be contained, but so that it will open up in its immensity and become of the earth celestial.
When the vagabonds from Magna Techna finally arrive in their souped-up saucers, will they see what may be the world’s largest painting as the word of words from the zoosphere? It all depends on how permanent the West Side Highway is.
Or the World Trade Center.
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I wonder today if anyone could do such a thing without being banged upside the head with a billy club and hauled off to jail. Thirty-three years have passed, the length of Jesus' life, and as much has changed in these past decades as changed in that historic life. In 1978, we hauled five-gallon cans of paint in shopping carts up the exit ramps to the highway and though nothing of painting for hours non-stop. There were no barriers to keep us from entering; pedestrians were allowed, and most jsut found what we were doing a bit curious but harmless. No one questioned what we were doing. Well, that's not quite true. One person did.
After six-weeks of painting day and night, we were finally signing our names on the finished painting when a NYC police car drove to the edge of the painting and stopped. A young patrolman got out of the car and walked very slowly towards us, kicking the ground as he went. It was noon, and I assumed he was on his lunch break, and had just stopped to say hi. How innocent we all were then.
When he was very near, he paused his step, raised his hand in greeting, smiled and said, almost apologetically, I have to ask you this . . . I got a call that the graffiti artists were at it again. He cleared his throat. You do have a permit, don't you?
I brushed my damp hair from my face -- it was blistering hot that day -- gave him my biggest smile and said, You don't really think we would do such a thing without a permit, do you?
I watched his face flood with relief. I knew it, he said, I knew it, and then he looked up shyly and said very very quietly, Thanks. It's great, thanks. I eat my lunch here every day. I love it.
And I loved that he loved what we had created because we had done it for love.