FINANCIAL DISTRICT — A temporary photo exhibition memorializing the 9/11 attacks that was taken from the World Trade Center subway station was actually removed by a cleaner because it was unauthorized, police said.
After his 31 prints of New Yorkers paying their respects at Ground Zero were stripped from the station, artist Keith De Cesare filed a police report and speculated that a member of a group of 9/11 "truthers" may have snatched the display.
Authorities, who initially took the report as a grand larceny — as De Cesare valued the prints at between $3,500 and $5,000 — now say the artist put them in a passageway below Fulton and Church streets without permission and that a cleaner was instructed to take them down.
De Cesare held a press conference Tuesday morning in the subway station to discuss the development, along with longtime collaborator Monica Iken, founder of nonprofit September's Mission, who lost her husband in the terrorist attacks.
De Cesare said they were "deeply, deeply disappointed" to learn a cleaner had torn down the artwork — but most of all, they were upset to learn the prints had been tossed in the garbage rather than put in the lost and found.
"That was the shocking part, because at the very least they were never abandoned property," he said, noting the prints had been marked as property of ArtAID with a permanent marker, including a phone number and email address for the organization.
Last week, he told DNAinfo New York that his wife had a run-in with a man from a group of about 30 9/11 conspiracy theorists while the installation was being put up.
The man, who wore a shirt reading "9/11 Was an Inside Job," approached his wife and said, "What a waste of paper," before adding, "You better keep an eye on that," according to De Cesare and police.
"Certainly there was an antagonism there and a threat," De Cesare said at the time.
But it turns out the real reason for the missing prints was far less nefarious.
De Cesare said at the press conference the MTA had denied taking down the prints, and so the NYPD had continued to investigate the disappearance as a crime. The MTA denied any knowledge of the missing prints when DNAinfo reached out last week and did not immediately return a request for additional comment on Tuesday.
The artist said he never asked for permission to hang the prints, and had rarely approached authorities about his displays in 16 years of guerilla memorializing.
"We've never actually sought permission," he said, adding he felt compelled to display his work regardless in tribute to those lost to the tragedy. "It's never been official, but it's been historic. It's been deeply important to New York City."
Iken, De Cesare and his wife Adriana hung up paper copies of the original prints — which had been on pricey canvases, according to Iken — in the passageway ahead of Tuesday's press conference, but said they would be taking the copies down shortly after.
De Cesare said they would launch an online fundraiser to recoup the cost of the tossed prints.