February 17, 2009 -
Port Morris is a Bronx industrial neighborhood covered in rust. Abandoned train tracks run overhead. A burnt-out gas station sits underneath the highway. And on the waterfront, a neglected Richard Serra sculpture is slowly rusting into the snow near an empty ferry terminal.
Between 1923 and 1969, the East 134th Street Ferry Terminal launched ferryboats out to North Brother Island and Rikers Island, according to "Over and Back, The History of Ferryboats in NY Harbor." Visitors for Typhoid Mary, who died in quarantine on North Brother Island in 1938, caught their boat here. During the same era, in 1932, the NY Times reported that "one of the worst marine-industrial accidents of the city's history" happened just offshore, when the old steamship Observation was "blown to pieces... blown to bits." According to "The Bronx: In Bits and Pieces" by Bill Twomey, the Observation "was only a few ship-lengths from shore when the boiler exploded, sinking the ship and killing 72 people on board, including the captain. Most of the dead were ironworkers who paid ten cents each for that fateful ride."
In a fitting and unintentional tribute to these forgotten ironworkers, a huge welded steel Richard Serra sculpture now rests just a few yards from their watery grave, facing the long abandoned ferry terminal. A welded nameplate inside labels it as "Bellamy" - a truly monumental piece of art worth millions of dollars. According to Man of Steel, a New Yorker article from 2002, "Bellamy" is "the spiral that Serra had named after the late Richard Bellamy, his close friend and early dealer." The sculpture was shown at the Venice Biennial before being exhibited by the Gagosian Gallery in 2001, where "one young couple got permission to be married in Bellamy." Fittingly, an article in Art Forum describes "Bellamy" as "an apt monument to the no longer living."
Despite its international acclaim, "Bellamy" is now hidden behind an old corrugated metal shed on the East River waterfront. It has been bleeding rust outdoors for at least three years, when it was used to stage a 2006 guerrilla art installation titled "Invisible Graffiti." It may have been outside even longer, according to a 2005 NY Sun article which claims Richard Serra is "storing" his sculptures in the Bronx. Like the rest of Port Morris, it could soon rust away entirely.
For other photos from this expedition, visit Bluejake and Mercurialn. Follow-up stories about this sculpture can be seen at greg.org and at archeologie du futur. In September 2010, this photo essay was featured by The New York Times in an article titled "Richard Serra Sculpture Rusts in Bronx Yard" which included one of my photos and an interview.