Changing the rules of the game


The impending sale of the land underneath Philadelphia’s tile-and-mirrors whiz Isaiah Zagar’s installation garnered some press that included raves about the work from a variety of passersby and out-of-town visitors.

But yesterday I heard another point of view. It was a neighbor on Isaiah-overload–so many Zagars on so many walls. (Maybe there was a touch of NIMBYism here, too.) Besides, she said, he was playing unfair, changing the terms under which he had gotten permission to install his work.

So it goes. You fix up an empty lot with a garden or art, but when the owner wants to sell, your hard work is cooked. That’s reality and that’s private property. (Here’s Zagar’s side of the story.)

(I can just imagine a certain person saying, predictably, so how’s that different from the Barnes, with the private owner disposing of his property as he sees fit? And I suppose the counterargument can be based on how this compares to Maxfield Parrish’s Tiffany glass “Dream Garden,” a piece I find somewhat depressing, which also was private property rescued from removal by public outcry and the concept of it being a public trust. In these two, big-time cases, I come down on the public trust side.)

However, I take the other side in the case of Zagar. Zagar’s garden was originally allowed as temporary, site-specific work. Removal is part of the original bargain. I remember paying lots of money to have several tons of cement removed after a show ended. The cost of destruction exceeded the cost of manufacture, as I recall. I could take the Marie Antoinette approach, like the neighbor did, and say, let him buy the land instead, but I don’t think that’s a likely option. Destruction would be cheaper.

I personally wouldn’t hop on the bandwagon to preserve it. On the other hand, I, unlike the neighbor, like Zagar’s garden for its fanciful ideosyncrasy. I look forward to it popping up as I ride the 40 bus down South Street. I’ll be sorry to see it go.


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