Greenberg, Holocaust Revisited Shut Down By Circuit Court

greenberg.jpg
Kit Kellison
Greenberg and some of his art in 2007.
As far as the local judicial system is concerned, Lewis Greenberg's art is still a danger to society. A St. Louis County circuit judge yesterday upheld a ruling by the Ballwin municipal court that Greenberg's yard installation, The Holocaust Revisited, may be art, but it's still dangerous and needs to be removed.

Judge Lawrence Permuter told Greenberg that he has 30 days to remove the sculpture from his yard or pay a $1,000 fine. David Howard and Veronica Johnson, Greenberg's attorneys, plan to take the case to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

Greenberg, who was recently declared Best Geezer by the RFT, began assembling The Holocaust Revisited in 2004. His neighbors in the Whispering Oakwood subdivision protested that the sculpture, which contains twisted metal and pointed sticks, was a health hazard and lowered property values. The case first went to court two years ago.

"I'm very disappointed," said Howard. "Neither of the judges [Permuter or Ballwin municipal judge Kathryn Koch] addressed the Constitutional issues. They let an ordinance trump the Constitution."

Howard isn't even convinced of the validity of the ordinance.

"In 2005, after the initial complaint [by Greenberg's neighbors], Tom Aiken, the assistant city manager and chief code enforcer for Ballwin, examined the sculpture and, after consultation with other city officials, including the prosecutor, said there was no violation of any Ballwin ordinance," Howard says. "He left Lewis a message to that effect on his answering machine, which Lewis kept.

"Mr. Greenberg thought he had a green light to keep his artwork up," Howard continues. "But lurking beneath the shadows...two years later, he's charged with an offense."

In addition to testimony by Aiken (who, Howard says, "did try to weasel his way out") and an adjunct art professor at St. Louis County Community College who said The Holocaust Revisited was an example of the "contemporary abstract" genre, the defense presented photos of other houses in the neighborhood with lawn decorations that appeared equally hazardous, including Christmas displays and rocks covered in ivy.

"The judge did at first block us from getting in any neighborhood photos on grounds of irrelevance," says Howard. "There was a collective groan in the audience. If city officials disagree about the application of an ordinance, how will a citizen know what's lawful?"

Since the case is going to be appealed, Howard says, there will probably be a stay on Permuter's ruling and Greenberg won't have to take his artwork down right away.

This is good, Howard adds, because "we're not sure of the sweep of the ruling. Does everything have to go, or will they evaluate in on a piece by piece basis? What is it going to take to satisfy Ballwin officials now?"

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