WILLIAMSBURG — The towering war protest sculpture and soldier memorial at the edge of McCarren Park resembling Michelangelo's "Pieta" was removed by the city Wednesday, after officials said the provocative public art installation was not permitted.
"We have removed the display from McCarren Park. We are securing the property and will hold onto [the display] for two weeks," said a Parks Department spokeswoman, who noted that the owner could call them to pick up the items used in the piece.
The artist behind the piece of public art, Giovanni Gelardi — who had previously remained anonymous and refrained from explaining the work — told DNAinfo.com New York he was "upset" when he learned his installation had been disassembled.
"I put it up on Veteran's Day," Gelardi said of the display, which featured two posters depicting the faces of 6,600 soldiers who died in Iraq and Afghanistan placed on either side of a sculpture of an Army-uniformed skeleton lying in the arms of a crying mother.
The skeleton was meant to resemble Jesus and the mother the Virgin Mary in the biblical scene right after Jesus died and was removed from the cross.
"That's my military uniform," said Gelardi, 47, who claimed he was in the Army and was stationed in Fort Rutgers, Ala., from 1984 to 1990.
"It makes a lot of sense," he said of the city's removal of the piece. "Nobody wants to know what's happened to these soldiers."
He admitted that he had not sought government approval to exhibit his work but noted that he had previously erected a 9/11 memorial in the same spot without permission, as well.
"I had another piece there of the Twin Towers, and it was up for two months," he said, "Nobody ever took it down."
Gelardi, a Brooklyn native who now lives on Long Island, said he had created his "Pieta" sculpture to foster a public dialogue about the war.
"It's a piece for people to be aware of what's going on," he explained.
"It makes me upset," he added. "They don't want the truth out. They don't want people to protest."
Christine Murray, a longtime park advocate and neighborhood resident, also criticized the Parks Department's decision to remove the installation.
"The 9/11 memorial was allowed to stand, yet the memorial for our veterans is removed," she said. "Will [the] Parks [Department] now be going after all illegal and unpermitted activity in McCarren?"
She claimed that daily "illegal" activities occur in the park that are not enforced, including "vandals," "public urinaters" and "unleashed dogs."
Prior to the art piece's removal, Williamsburg residents reacted with a range of emotions, from dismay to deep respect.
"I don't think park space should be used for this, not right," wrote one neighbor, Justin DeLillo, on the Facebook page Friends and Families of McCarren Park.
But another Army Veteran, Eddie Algarin, said he valued the work, even though it saddened him.
"It's much worse over there, but this brings things close to home," he said, referring to the war in Afghanistan.
"Even people who aren't religious tend to look at God at that one moment before they die ... I'm seeing a saint," he said of the soldier.