“Tribute in Light” is an art installation of 88 searchlights produced annually by the Municipal Art Society. Courtesy EJP Photo via Flickr

Few tragedies have inspired such an outpouring of commentary and art as 9/11. It was, after all, the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, taking place square in the heart of the nation’s biggest city. Consequently, the events of that day and the site of the former World Trade Center have taken on an unmatched weight in American iconography. With the tenth anniversary arriving and the austere memorial at Ground Zero finally about to make its debut, the floodgates have opened again with countless exhibitions and tributes planned.
Yet, as befits an event with a truly traumatic status, 9/11 has proved difficult to approach in an uncontroversial way. No work of “9/11 Art,” in fact, seems complete without some commentary on how it fails or does disservice to the true nature of the tragedy — though, of course, this true nature varies depending on who is doing the commentary. Below, ARTINFO summarizes some of the most notable episodes in art’s relation to the tragedy, and how these controversies have entered the public debate about the meaning of September 11, 2001.


Ben Davis