Object-hood’s Indecencies: Tilted Arc and the Lessons Learnt in Breakdown

Emily Dickson 1
  • 1 Ontario College of Art and Design University, , Toronto, Canada


This essay looks to re-evaluate sculptor Richard Serra’s famous claim that “to remove the work is to destroy it.” Using OOO, and particularly Graham Harman’s interpretation of Martin Heidegger’s tool analysis, in order to analyze the now famous moment when Tilted Arc was de-installed from Federal Plaza, Manhattan in 1989, this paper argues that the work was not in fact destroyed but rather that its ontological autonomy was even more absolutely revealed in that moment as such. Although it is the case that art objects and sites are prone to discursive co-construction and evaluation, it is this analysis’ claim that they both are possessive of a deep, substantive form also, a form resistant to appropriation. Tilted Arc therefore revealed something even more insidious and dangerous to those who opposed it than the power of art to speak back to its surroundings. Rather, it uncovered the substantive objecthood of the site itself.

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  • Harman, Graham. “The Well-Wrought Broken Hammer: Object-Oriented Literary Criticism.” New Literary History 43, no. 2 (2012): 183-203.

  • Harman, Graham. Dante’s Broken Hammer: The Ethics, Aesthetics, and Metaphysics of Love. A Repeater Books paperback original. ed. London: Repeater Books, 2016.

  • Harman, Graham. Object-Oriented Ontology: A New Theory of Everything. London: Penguin Books, 2018.

  • Harman, Graham. The Third Table. Kassel: 100 Thoughts: Documenta Series 085, 2012.

  • Harman, Graham. “Materialism is Not the Solution.” The Nordic Journal of Aesthetics 24, no. 47 (2016): 94-110.

  • Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Oxford: Blackwell, 1962.

  • Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2002.

  • Serra, Richard. “Tilted Arc Destroyed.” In Richard Serra: Writing Interviews. London: University of Chicago Press, 1994.


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Open Philosophy is an international Open Access, peer-reviewed academic journal covering all areas of philosophy. The objective of Open Philosophy is to foster free exchange of ideas and provide an appropriate platform for presenting, discussing and disseminating new concepts, current trends, theoretical developments and research findings related to the broadest philosophical spectrum.