Public Art and Freedom of Speech…

… such as they are, in these distressing days. It’s come to be a standout exception in the last half-century when a piece of public art is actually attractive, engaging, relatable to the place and the audience, and exhibits moderate to advanced skills and aesthetic sense on the part of the artist. Noted in Tom Wolfe’s book-long evisceration of modern architecture, altogether too many post-WWII public buildings got finished off with installing a barren plaza in front, a plaza featuring a water feature with an enormous concrete turd dropped into it. There are exceptions to this bleak and ugly trend, of course – but the monumental MLK/Coretta Scott King statue unveiled last weekend in Boston is, alas, not one of them.

It’s just passably OK from the front aspect, but looking at it from the other side … oh, gosh – some bodiless arms holding up an engorged colon, a huge male member, or an enormous turd? Or something even ruder, as was suggested by Leslie Jones. Perhaps the main purpose, after all, was to burn $10 million dollars. And, no – I don’t think the people of Boston will come to love “The Embrace”, as the French eventually embraced the Eiffel Tower, or Christ the Redeemer came to be reverenced by Brazilians. A further note to Ms. Jones – I certainly will criticize that expensive bronze atrocity. You suppose that for another 10 million, the artist could have included the heads?

In the meantime, it seems that Sheila Jackson Lee, the wicked witch of Houston, the most abusive boss on Capitol Hill, and the long-time bane of airline staff on Washington to Houston flights has put forward a bill which basically enables criminal charges against anyone who posts anything on the internet which can be connected to the commission of an actual hate crime. Leaving aside the concept of a ‘hate crime’ being somehow worse than an ordinary, non-hate crime, this bill – in the event that everyone in the House and Senate loses what is left of their damned minds and decides that the First Amendment is merely a polite suggestion – could in theory mean that if someone vandalized the above-noted MLK monument, that I could be charged with contributing to or encouraging a hate crime. In past times, I would have expected that Queen Sheila’s flight of legislative fancy would be laughed out of consideration in about two minutes … but these mad days, I really can’t be sure … Discuss as you wish, and while we still can.

PS – I see in the news that Jacinda Ardern has resigned as Prime Minister of New Zealand. Jumped before she was pushed? Is there some kind of scandal brewing down under, or just the potential humiliation of losing reelection in a landslide. Locking down all of the country for fear of Covid AKA the Commie Crud can’t have done all that much for her popularity, as the very model of a modern Major AWFL. Anyone have insight into local politics in New Zealand?

11 thoughts on “Public Art and Freedom of Speech…”

  1. Yes – it seems a simplification of King at his best, not a tribute.
    Not as terrible perhaps, having a certain bleak simplicity, is Houston’s Rothko Chapel & its Martin Luther King “broken obelisk” in its courtyard – Broken Obelisk.. A severed obelisk seems opposed to the memories of other obelisks (not unlike the chapel itself and its suicidal architect), Hope it came through as a picture? Here’s more: Chapel pr. I can remember going there for its quiet while carpooling pre-teens to Houston for lessons, with my toddler in tow. But she was so much more colorful and lively, it seemed more counterpoint than anything else. The MA King statue seems a throbbing mess. But then, my passion has always been for the NE tribute to the prairie (and LIncoln). The snark never bothered me because it so missed the point – or what I thought was the point. Sure its the penis of the plains, but the seminal joy of the sower with his bag of seed & a symbol of spreading life, above a French Lincoln – what could be better?

  2. As far as Jackson’s bill, she is in the minority and her bill has no cosponsors. It will disappear in committee.


    The term is “stochastic terrorism” and the Left is pushing to create a ink between political statements and actions by unrelated 3rd parties. If Desantis or LibsofTiKTok highlights a teacher posting a video bragging about grooming 7 year old then they become politically liable if any side changes teacher so much drugs their toe. Chuck Schumer can threaten Supreme Court justices hut skates when one is almost assassinated, but it’s teacher is a threatened after a Loudoun county parent protests CRT….

    So expect what Jackson is.proposing to.emerge as.a political curves when the time is right

  3. The first thing that popped into my mind when I saw the King statue was a familiar directive during medical exams when I was in the Army; “Bend over and spread your cheeks!”

    According to the great French novelist, Stendhal, literature and other forms of art are expressions of the culture of a particular class of people at a particular point in time. I must admit that the King statue does that admirably.

  4. Sure it’s terrible.

    Now do the WWII Monument and Memorial in DC. Empty, incoherent, and mutatis mutandis–thoroughly fascist looking. Maybe it’s better looking in person, but in pix it looks like crap.

  5. There is something to be said for waiting to see if a monument gains mass acceptance with time. The King sculpture seems a bit out there but sometimes monuments that are initially unpopular or the subjects of mixed reviews gain in popularity. The Vietnam memorial is an example. We shall see how it goes with this MLK memorial.

  6. Cousin Eddie,

    My first impression upon seeing the WW II Memorial was the similarities with a number of the American battle monuments and cemeteries in Europe especially Aisne-Marne and its chapel. My second impression upon visiting it was triumph, so I can the connotation with Fascism but I took it to be more Romaesque.

    I will ask if someone here can recommend a good book or essay describing the history and meaning of public monuments, memorials, and statues. As a westerner coming East, it’s shocking to see the number of such sites and also understandable given not the long and rich history of the area but also the presence of the national capital. Important factors in any such site are both its location, especially if it claims to be national in character, and the time in history when it was constructed.

    There are of course glaring differences between the MLK/Scott King statue SGM cites and the various statues of Confederate generals that are being ripped down, but they do have a few things in common. Both were constructed, not as national statements, but in regional cities evocative of a certain sensibility. The Confederate statues were of course placed in the old Confederacy and the MLK statue in Boston; when the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial was constructed in Washington it underwent a length design and approval process because of its national scope while the the folks designing the Boston statue had much more freedom to do what they wanted.

    The other similarity is the attempt to redefine history from a given point of time. The Confederate statues were largely part of the Lost Cause project. There has been a similar attempt to redefine MLK away from his “content of character” and either bury his legacy altogether or warp it sufficiently to enlist it in current Woke projects. Look at that statue again, what does that tell you about the man who is a national figure? About how his relationship with his wife and how that affected a national figure? Hardly, but that marker is Boston’s statement on that historical figure. If you cannot say anything good about something but you have to say something, then the best strategy is to say mush (see KJP, Biden Administration)

    Back to the WW II Memorial and its Romaesque/victory connotations. It is not a coincidental that the Memorial was constructed after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the latter evoking the scar of national division, was opened in 1982. The Vietnam Memorial not only the possibility of other war memorials on the Mall, but you had the 40th anniversary celebrations of WW II with one of the highlights being Reagan’s Pointe du Hoc speech and the realization that the WW II veterans would soon be dying out. If we were going to memorialize a war like Vietnam then why not one like WW II and remind ourselves that we are the good guys who once won wars.

    So a question…

    Should we have a national Civil War memorial? I say not because in a very real sense such a memorial already exists in the form of the Lincoln Memorial. Here was man whose ideas of freedom and return to the ideas of the Founders brought on the War, saved the Republic by leading it to victory, and with his Second Inaugural helped to place the nation on the long path to reconciliation. Keep in mind the conclusive argument against the like of Kendi, Hannah-Jones, 1619 Project and all of their like is Lincoln.

  7. Mike: “why not one like WW II and remind ourselves that we are the good guys who once won wars.”

    Wrong tense. Back in the days of WWII, we arguably were the Good Guys — or at least the “Better Than The Other Guys”. Our ancestors partnered with the Soviet Union to defeat Germany, even to the extent of cutting butter supplies to US citizens to send the butter instead to the USSR.

    It has been a painful & slow realization for me, but reality is that that was then and this is now. Now Our Betters borrow money to blunder into foreign countries spreading death & mayhem. They wage war against Russia in the Ukraine, and arm twist Germany into risking becoming the next field of battle. Sadly, we are no longer the “good guys”. And the worst part is that too many of us are still trapped in delusions about the dangerous scum who claim to lead us.

  8. As far as the Grand Alliance against Hitler, if we worked closely with a sadist to put down a mad dog, that’s the price of power. Somebody was going to pay the butcher’s bill, and if we could use butter while the Sovs used bodies, who are we to complain?

    The result in 1945 was close to Truman’s and others’ wish–the two monsters had bled each other thoroughly.

    But that was then . . . .

    Our WWII veterans deserve all the recognition we can give them, I just think what they got in DC looks crappy.

    I’ve been involved in historical monuments and memorials locally and think it’s a mug’s game now. I’m too burned out to think of a good reading list on the topic.

  9. It’s hard to see this thing in Boston as anything but a complete failure as a memorial. Aside from the objectionable imagery evoked from most angles, it simply fails to have any decipherable connection with Dr. King or anything he accomplished. I’d hazard the judgement that memorial art that needs an extended explanation in order to be recognized as human is like a joke that needs to be explained. Eventually, every memorial become obscure but the casual observer should be able to tell the subject was human, at least.

  10. Eddie: “I’ve been involved in historical monuments and memorials locally and think it’s a mug’s game now.”

    It has probably been that way for a while. Look at what happened in the UK. After the bloodletting of World War I, most towns built impressive war memorials and carved the names of local dead soldiers into the rock. After World War II, mostly they just shrugged and added the names of the new dead to the same memorial.

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