Nobel Prize Winner Harold Varmus Wants MARABAR to Remain Accessible to All (2020)

MARABAR Letters of Support

Nobel Prize Winner Harold Varmus Wants MARABAR to Remain Accessible to All (2020)

Nobel Prize Winner Harold Varmus Wants MARABAR to Remain Accessible to All (2020)
May 11, 2020

On May 9, 2020, Harold Varmus, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist in medicine, 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.



Board members:

An article in today’s New York Times reminded me of my unfulfilled intention to urge you to carry out your responsibility to maintain the great works of art that are accessible to all in the heart of our nation’s capital.

I write as a scientist, not an artist or art historian, who has lived for several years in the District of Columbia, visits often, and takes special pleasure in the art that current pedestrians enjoy and our successors should also enjoy. Since I often now lodge in an inn on N Street, I frequently stroll by the National Geographic Society headquarters to view Marabar, marvel at its heft and beauty, and contemplate its relationship to the world that the NGS helps us to understand, enjoy, and preserve. To dismantle or destroy this ennobling artwork would be to undermine the very purpose of the NGS, as well as destroy one of the objects that make DC itself a sanctified place in our country.

I am confident that the ambitions of the NGS can be sustained without the destruction of meaningful art.


Harold Varmus, M.D.

Lewis Thomas University Professor, Cornell University
Former Director, NIH and NCI
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine