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Miros, Rodins Among Millions in Art Lost at WTC

NEW YORK (Reuters) - While the collapse of the World Trade Center towers led to a staggering loss of life, it also delivered an unprecedented blow to the art world, destroying an estimated $100 million in artwork, analysts and experts say.

The sheer magnitude of the Sept. 11 attacks by two hijacked commercial jetliners and the enormous size of the 110-story twin towers have wrought what analysts say may be the largest single-incident art loss in history.

Beyond such public works as a Calder sculpture and a Miro tapestry which once adorned the Trade Center's plazas or lobbies, corporations also lost millions of dollars in art.

The company often mentioned as having suffered the greatest loss of life in the attack, bond broker Cantor Fitzgerald, was also home to the Iris & B. Cantor collections of Rodin sculptures, among the world's foremost assemblage of Rodins.

Along with over 700 Cantor employees, the collection is now lost. Perhaps not surprisingly given the staggering human loss, Cantor officials say the art is not a major concern.

"It's not the highest agenda item,'' a Cantor spokesman said. "We're much more concerned with the human toll than the fiscal toll, much more focused on rebuilding the business and helping the families of lost employees.''

PORT AUTHORITY HAD EXTENSIVE COLLECTION

Dr. Dietrich von Frank, president and CEO of AXA Art, the world's largest art insurer, said the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which leased the property to Silverstein Properties Inc., had a "very extensive'' collection including works by Calder, Miro, Liechtenstein and Nevelson.

And while he said a few works had miraculously survived the cascade of concrete and rubble that rained on the site when the two towers collapsed, "everything that ... we had insured in the towers is basically gone. Even bronze sculptures, because of the heat from the fires, are gone.''

"So far the loss outweighs Northridge, the loss outweighs Hurricane Andrew,'' Frank said of the 1994 earthquake in California and 1992 storm in south Florida that resulted in millions in insurance claims.

"Swissair 111 certainly was not of that magnitude,'' he said of the 1998 crash of the jetliner that was carrying at least one Picasso and a cargo of valuable jewelry.

AXA Art is a subsidiary of AXA Nordstern Art Versicherung AG of Cologne, Germany and a member of AXA Group, Paris, one of world's largest financial services organizations with some $788 billion in assets.

It insures private and corporate collections, galleries, museums and exhibitions and had three corporate clients at the trade center, which Frank declined to name.

"My initial estimate was that the entire artwork lost in the both towers would have been in excess of $100 million,'' Frank said in an interview, adding that his widely quoted figure remains an estimate.

"It's rather difficult to pinpoint exactly the artwork that has been lost,'' Frank said, although he said that claims from two of AXA Art's three WTC clients were nearly complete.

LIMIT TO THE IMPORTANCE OF ART

Ordinarily Frank said insurers will inspect damaged works that are partially recovered. "But in this case I've made a conscious decision that we do not want to meddle with the people in Staten Island,'' where the debris is being carted to the Fresh Kills landfill.

"There is a limit to the importance of art,'' he said. The collapse of the twin towers killed roughly 4,500 people.

"It's going to take a while for people to figure out where many of the works might have been,'' agreed Anna Kisluk, director of art services for the Art Loss Register, a private company that maintains a computerized image database of stolen and missing works of art.

Works from corporate collections are routinely lent out for traveling exhibits, she said. "Things do move around. Corporations have fairly active lending programs.''

"And then there are the privately owned works,'' Kisluk added. "An executive might have had a work on his wall, for example.'' And given the magnitude of the human losses, Kisluk said "it is still very early in terms of documenting and reporting lost artwork.''

"There are other priorities right now than figuring out insurance claims,'' she said.

Complicating the problem is the loss of records, many of which were also housed in the trade center.

"Who knows whether people will ever be able to come up with any kind of definitive list, because records were destroyed.''

Port Authority officials have documented more than half a dozen large-scale works appraised at over $8 million that were either lost or damaged. Among those were one of the center's most recognizable icons, ''The Sphere,'' Fritz Koenig's 27-foot-high bronze sphere that sat in the fountain plaza between the two looming towers.

Amazingly, "the sphere was fairly intact,'' said Allen Morrison, a Port Authority spokesman, and is one of a few works that could be a candidate for restoration.

Another is Calder's "Bent Propellor,'' a steel sculpture that stood in the plaza in front of 7 World Trade Center. About one-third to one-half of it has been recovered, and the Calder Foundation is looking for the rest with the hope of eventually restoring it. They even put up notices seeking information.

Parts of Calder's "Stabile'' have also been recovered, said Morrison, who added "I don't know what the status is'' in terms of its suitability for restoration.

But more fragile pieces, such as Joan Miro's "Tapestry for World Trade Center,'' a 20-by-35-foot (6-by-11 meter) 1974 work that hung in the 2 World Trade Center lobby for nearly 20 years, are gone. The Spanish government has reportedly asked artist Josep Royo to reconstruct the tapestry, which was appraised at $2 million.

By Christopher Michaud

 
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