CLEVELAND — Artist Loren Naji is suing five different entities after he said his sculpture was wrongfully removed and destroyed.
Loren Naji has lived a life completed immersed in art. The artist designed a piece that he could tour around the world living inside.
“I used to crawl in there and use this rope to close the door” said Naji while explaining his work of art.
Naji has a passion for spheres, which feature prominently in most of his art. Including one piece that's no longer available for the public to enjoy.
“The sculpture was a large eight-foot diameter sphere made of layers of plywood. It weighed about 3,000 lbs.” explained Naji. He says this sphere was special, doubling as a time capsule. “Took me about a year and a half to build. It was all stacked plywood and then sanded smoothed,” he said.
The time capsule was installed in 2011, on West 25 street in Cleveland. The sculpture was named ‘They Have Landed’, inspired by the solar system.
“There were letters and notes and CDs and tapes and. Oh, there's a bottle of wine” said Naji.
He said the work of art was bolted to the ground and put on display, then construction began nearby.
“This past summer, I started noticing it was fenced in because the construction for this big project,” said Naji. “I started noticing they started piling all kinds of garbage against it and building materials, there was even a tire sitting on the top of it.”
A few months later, Naji says he got a phone call from a friend.
“A friend called me and said, 'Where's your sculpture? It's not there anymore,'" Naji said. "And I thought, 'Oh, no, it probably just got hidden by all that construction debris.'”
Not hidden, Naji said he soon learned it was destroyed.
“I went [into the construction office] and they said, 'Oh, yeah, we tried to move it and it broke apart. So we put in the dumpster and it's gone.'”
All that’s left where the sculpture once stood is the empty base for the placard.
“My first thought was, 'Why didn't they call me? Why?' It's so simple," Naji said. "Email, call, Facebook, Instagram. There's a million ways of getting a hold of me.”
In a legal filing, Naji's attorney is seeking monetary damages from Harbor Bay Real Estate, Panzika construction, the City of Cleveland and Greater Cleveland RTA, saying Naji maintained ownership and copyright interest of the sculpture and it was destroyed without notifying him.
In a statement from the Greater Cleveland RTA, “The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA) supports public art. While this specific piece near the W.25th St. station was not commissioned by GCRTA, we did work with both the artist and community to grant permission to place it on GCRTA property. That License expired August 1, 2021 and was not extended.”
Naji says the lawsuit won’t bring back his sculpture, but he hopes it can create an opportunity for people to come together and collaborate on a new piece of artwork.
"I'd love everybody to be happy. I love everyone to work things out” said Naji. "What if the developer Panzeeka construction built a new sphere out of cement, a eight-foot cement sphere, and I painted on it.”
Naji hopes this new artwork could live in the same space as the old one.
“I'd like them to, you know, work towards fixing the problem," he said.