National Geographic Society Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

Artist Mary Miss Calls on National Geographic to "re-visit" MARABAR Demolition Plans (2020)


On May 10, 2020, Mary Miss, an American artist and designer, wrote the following letter to the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB) concerning plans that would demolish the sculpture MARABAR at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. Completed in 1984, MARABAR is the work of celebrated artist Elyn Zimmerman, who recently spoke with TCLF about her career and the National Geographic commission in particular. After officially listing the National Geographic headquarters in its Landslide program for threatened cultural landscapes and landscape features, TCLF also requested that the HPBR revisit the case in light of information that the review board lacked when it rendered its initial decision.



To the Chair,

It is with great dismay that I have learned of the planned removal of the truly distinctive artwork, Marabar, by the artist Elyn Zimmerman.  This is a project that has given National Geographic an important identity for decades. It is recognized as one of the outstanding public projects of its time.

As an artist who has worked primarily in the public domain, I am well aware of changes having to occur over time.  But I wonder: when such a prominent and well loved work of art is involved, wasn’t there a way to work with the artist from the outset and plan a way forward together that would make sense to everyone?  

It is certainly handing a heavy burden to an artist to indicate that she is welcome to find a new home for a project like this.  If no good solution can be found to keep a work in place, it seems very reasonable for the owners of a work art to have the responsibility to find an alternative solution that is amenable to all parties.  With a work of some complexity that requires transport, pumping systems and an appropriate site, this is a burden the artist should not have to bear.

It is just not good enough to say the work will be destroyed because the artist has failed to find a new home for it. I believe that it is imperative that the Washington DC Historic Preservation Review Board request National Geographic to re-visit this issue that sets serious precedents to the preservation of works of art.  They need to find and pay for a solution that is appropriate for all parties.


Mary Miss

349 Greenwich Street #5
New York, New York 10013
t: 212 966 4287

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