Wrecker, Spare That Frieze!

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Karp’s approach to competitors (“The main one we haven’t neutralized so far is an unidentified young man with a beard and a pickup truck, who collects for certain antique dealers”) is to accost them on the site, establish the mutuality of their quests, and enlist them as members of the A.A.R.S. This technique once led to the recruitment of one of the society’s most valuable members, Stanley Poler, the current vice president. “I didn’t know who Poler was,” Karp explains, “but I was getting annoyed night after night to sneak onto some site and find that somebody had beaten me to a piece I’d marked for confiscation that very afternoon. I finally spotted him one Saturday, and when I learned that he was a licensed engineer, we had a new member and considerably expanded technical capabilities.”

The A.A.R.S. soon found that it was running out of storage space. Apartments, basements, garages were all crammed to the bursting point; even Poler’s mother had begun grumbling about not being able to walk in her backyard in the Bronx. Then, in 1961, Karp, who had lots of sculpture but no room, went to a party and met Thomas S. Buechner, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, who had lots of room but no outdoor sculpture to furnish it with. Buechner also shared the concern of the A.A.R.S. for preserving the line and texture of the past. “Unlike the disappearing city represented in this Garden, our city is being extruded, rolled out, and poured into blank-faced forms,” he says. “The imprint of the individual has been eliminated and the chances are that no architectural ornament from 1966 will come to rest here because nobody is making any; in spite of having more hands and more time and more knowledge than ever before in the history of the world, we live in a time of the clean line, the metaphysical proportion, the very, very empty space.”

Which is, perhaps, the real justification for the Brooklyn sculpture garden, where the public has an opportunity to understand what Clemenceau had in mind when, having toured a new and very modern building project, he observed: “It’s all very nice, but what sort of ruins will it make?”