My personal reflections on The Two-Decade Anniversary of 9/11, in which I took issue with the harsh critique of the 9/11 Memorial Museum by Washington Post art critic Philip Kennicott, struck a chord with the president and founding director of that museum, which opened in 2014 at the site of the 2001 attack on the twin towers at the World Trade Center:
Alice Greenwald writes:
There’s been a lot of criticism again this year about the museum’s not providing a critique of the impacts of 9/11 on American foreign policy and not paying sufficient attention to the ongoing domestic tensions between security and civil liberties. This is coupled with assertions that we spend too much time describing the story of the day.
As a colleague noted, it’s not just the 20th anniversary of the attacks, it’s also the 20th anniversary of all the complaints!
As evidenced by the sheer number of people who thronged to the Memorial yesterday (over 62,000 by midnight), this site provides a space for not only remembrance and reflection, but also for an individual reckoning with the “meaning” and legacy of 9/11 (and not one imposed by us). While our public and educational programs do explore and interrogate the repercussions of the attacks, the core exhibitions remain focused on memorializing those who were killed and attesting to the events that happened here. I continue to believe that is our primary obligation—much as one would not go to Gettysburg and expect to see an exhibition about the Jim Crow era or the 1965 Voting Rights Act (and what happened in Texas this year!), without any recitation of what actually happened at that site in July 1863.
This focused approach comports with museum’s stated mission—to “remember and honor the nearly 3,000 victims of these attacks and all those who risked their lives to save others. It [the museum] further recognizes the thousands who survived and all who manifested extraordinary compassion and leadership in the wake of the attacks.”
That said, in my June 24, 2014 blog post, pegged to my Wall Street Journal piece on the restoration of artworks and artifacts displayed at the museum, I expressed reservations about the museum’s failure to adequately address the “important, long-term ramifications” of the attack and its aftermath. I suggested that the museum might explore such thorny topics in the future. But judging from Greenwald’s comments, it appears that the museum still tightly adheres to its primary focus of chronicling and memorializing that tragic day. (Were it not for my Covid fears as a vulnerable senior in the “Delta” era, I would have revisited the site to see for myself what has changed and what has remained the same at the 20-year mark.)
In his NY Times article reporting on the museum’s regrettable “elimination of special anniversary programming” due to pandemic-related financial shortfalls, Zachary Small noted that “some founders of the 9/11 Museum criticized its decision to scrap new anniversary exhibitions, saying that the museum has become frozen in time, a point that has revived feuds between factions in old and new leadership.”
One consolation—a salve for the rancor—is that the meditative “Tribute in Light,” sadly canceled last year, was again viewable from my terrace on Saturday night, a beacon for contemplation and remembrance:
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