Much has already been written, by Tom Wolfe and others, about the Obtuse Engraved Slab vs. Heroic Realism schools of public memorials.
Wolfe turned out to be wrong, of course; Americans, being generous at heart, eventually embraced the Vietnam memorial because it was such a blank slate they could make it their own. Their keen if sometimes elementary sense of “right and wrong”, of something being “off” — why was some nobody Asian woman designing this monument? (Those were the days when you could still ask such questions in public without being shunned or fired) — works in the other direction, too, you see.
And one senses that the very young artist was so dim in so many ways — a blank slate creating a blank slate — that God stepped in and helped with the design, something visitors to the site surely sense.
Tom Wolfe wrote an obituary for [heroic realist sculptor] Hart in the New York Times some years ago, and that’s how I know this stuff — he did Catholic liturgical art (there’s a sculpture of his called “Ex Nihilo” that displays his virtuosity nicely) and was a bit removed from modern artists. The sculptor George Segal had created a method where a cast could be had from live human models. Lin, the designer of the major part of the memorial, asked Hart if the models he used screamed in pain when the cast was removed. Hart had no idea what she was talking about.
If there are too many “cold” “explosion at the Flintstone’s” pieces of public art around (like the one above), there are also too many “hot”, literal-minded works like the 9/11 Flight Crew Memorial below, with artists (and no doubt their anxious [cheque-writing] patrons and the public) eager to recreate the flag raising at Iwo Jima one more time. There’s a fine line between moving and sentimental obviously.
The statuary below is not what I would have done — too “Ayn Rand in North Korea” even for my middle brow tastes — but this monument needed to be built and I’m glad it exists.