CLEVELAND — It measured eight feet in diameter and it weighed more than a ton, but a piece of public art that was installed near one of Cleveland’s busiest thoroughfares has vanished.
Handcrafted by locally renowned artist Loren Naji, the massive spherical sculpture called "They Have Landed" was installed in 2011 inside the traffic island adjacent to the GCRTA Ohio City Rapid station at West 24th and Carnegie Ave. Weighing roughly 3,000 pounds, the planetarium-like sculpture took Naji more than a year to construct, he said.
“Originally, it was just a plot of grass which extended further in this direction,” Naji said as he pointed to the nearby road. “It was RTA property. RTA wanted art here and I had a piece that I had built. It took me over a year to build it. It was filled by the community as a time capsule to be opened in 2050.”
Roughly 200 community members attended the time capsule event, depositing handwritten letters, tokens, mementos and other items commemorating the time, according to News 5 archives. Because of the sculpture’s heft, Naji said it was supported by up to eight feet of concrete and anchored by four threaded rods. The sculpture was attached to the foundation using a large metal plate that was slipped onto the threaded rods.
The structure was designed to support the sculpture so that the time capsule could be opened in 2050. At some point in 2022, the sculpture was gone.
“I was really upset. I was shocked and in disbelief. How could somebody do that? How could they just throw it away?” Naji said.
According to Google Streetview images, the large sculpture was firmly entrenched at the site, remaining largely undisturbed until 2021, when it was cordoned off by chain link fencing. The fence had been installed to contain the sprawling construction site for the newly-opened INTRO development across from the West Side Market.
According to a public improvements site plan approved by the City Planning Commission, the sculpture was to be removed in order to accommodate additional vehicle traffic and pedestrian walkways between the rapid station and the development.
When the sculpture was first installed, Naji also built a small plaque, which provided a brief history and inspiration behind the piece, as well as Naji’s name and the title of the sculpture.
Despite the clear markings, Naji said the sculpture was removed at some point in 2022 and he was not contacted prior to its removal. Naji said his original agreement with the RTA stipulated that although the RTA retained ownership of the public right of way, Naji retained ownership of the sculpture. News 5 has requested a copy of that agreement.
“No one ever called me about anything. No one ever called emailed, [contacted me on Facebook], nothing,” Naji said. “My name was on the plaque. How many Loren Naji’s are there in Cleveland, Ohio?”
Naji said the construction of the sculpture cost about $6,000 in materials and an untold number of hours. That’s not what bothers him most, however.
It’s what the community lost.
“Everyone brought items to put inside the time capsule. The metal plaque was made and it was supposed to be opened in 2050. That’s not happening anymore,” Naji said. “It’s gone. We’ll never see it again.”
Naji has filed a formal lawsuit against Harbor Bay Real Estate Advisors and Panzica Construction Company seeking monetary damages and fees for the "unlawful destruction" of his art in violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act.
To read the lawsuit in full, click here.