A Resolution is Reached to Save Site-Specific Installation MARABAR by Sculptor Elyn Zimmerman at National Geographic

By Editorial Team on March 9, 2021

The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), working in collaboration with the artist Elyn Zimmerman and the National Geographic Society (NGS), today announced that a resolution has been reached to prevent the demolition of Zimmerman’s site-specific installation MARABAR at NGS’ headquarters in Washington, D.C. The resolution was announced during testimony at a meeting of the D.C. Historic Preservation Review Board (HPRB), which is reviewing NGS’ proposed renovation of the plaza in which MARABAR is sited. The resolution notes that the artwork, which would have been demolished as part of the renovation, would now be moved to a new location and reinstalled at NGS’ expense. Moreover, the artist and TCLF would collaborate with NGS to locate a cultural institution or another appropriate site for MARABAR.

MARABAR by Elyn Zimmerman installation at the National Geographic Society. Photo courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

“We are pleased that a resolution has been reached that the artist can support and that will insure a safe future for MARABAR,” said Charles A Birnbaum, president & CEO of The Cultural Landscape Foundation, “and we’re grateful to National Geographic for being a strong and generous collaborator in this process.”

“I have been assured by NGS that I will have an active role in overseeing the removal, transportation and eventual installation of the components of MARABAR on a new site which will be carried out at National Geographic’s expense,” said Elyn Zimmerman. “I am deeply grateful to The Cultural Landscape Foundation for bringing attention to the issue of MARABAR’s pending demolition to the HPRB last year.”

MARABAR is a “masterpiece”

MARABAR, which consists of twelve red granite boulders of varying dimensions and a 60-foot-long water feature, was completed in 1984 as part of a building addition to NGS’ campus designed by architect David Childs with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. Childs selected Zimmerman for the commission. The artist has said that the installation is the “seminal work” in her career. Whitney Museum of American Art director Adam Weinberg calls the installation a “masterpiece.” Scholar and Emeritus Professor of Architecture at the University of California, Berkeley Marc Treib terms MARABAR “one of the great works of the later twentieth century.” New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik says “Zimmerman is one of the most distinguished ‘site-sculptors’ of her generation.”

Plans that would have resulted in the demolition of MARABAR were initially approved by the HPRB on August 1, 2019. TCLF later learned of the plans and made a case to the HPRB that the proposal submitted by NGS’ architects, Hickok Cole, had not adequately illustrated the installation nor apprised the HPRB of the artwork’s importance. TCLF enrolled MARABAR as a Landslide nationally significant cultural landscape that was at-risk and mounted an advocacy campaign, which yielded letters of support from artworld leaders throughout the country. On May 28, 2020, prompted by TCLF’s advocacy, the HPRB decided to reopen the case.

NGS resubmitted it’s plans on February 4, 2021, and discussions were subsequently held with Zimmerman, TCLF and others. The artist expressed concerns that moving the artwork could irreparably damage the boulders resulting in the work’s destruction. It was only in the past week that Hickok Cole revealed that regardless of whether the installation was incorporated into the redesign and in its original location, it would have to be moved as to facilitate construction during the plaza renovation.

As part of the plans submitted on February 4, 2021, NGS had proposed moving MARABAR to Canal Park in southeast D.C. and an MOU was signed with the non-profit that operates the city-owned park to effect a transfer. The artist, however, has expressed her opposition to siting the installation at Canal Park, a position shared by TCLF and by landscape architect David Rubin, the commissioned designer of Canal Park when he was an Equity Partner at OLIN.

A resolution was reached for MARABAR to be moved to a new location and reinstalled at NGS’ expense.

About The Cultural Landscape Foundation
The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 1998 to connect people to places. TCLF educates and engages the public to make our shared landscape heritage more visible, identify its value, and empower its stewards. Through its website, publishing, lectures and other events, TCLF broadens support and understanding for cultural landscapes. TCLF is also home to the Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture Prize.