Saturday, June 16, 2007

The Goddess of Democracy

There's only one problem that I have
with the original "Goddess of Democacy" from Tienanmen Square
and all the subsequent versions:

they're all ugly,
or if that's too strong a word,
they're all clumsy/awkward/lame

They're fine as temporary sculpture,
like the kind in parade floats,
so no fault can be attached to the original.
It captured the imagination of the world,
and what more could be asked of a statue ?

But the versions that followed
weren't much better.

and this latest version,
fabricated for a special new memorial
in Washington DC
must look so bad
that even the memorial's website
doesn't have any good pictures of it !

It's amazing !

They're so proud of their anti-communist message,
they really don't care what the damn thing looks like.

(and I can authoritatively report that
if an official communist artist union
sculptor had been hired for the job --
it could have been so much better !)

The first version looks like it was made by art students
(it was)
but so do all the versions that followed it.

Of course, we know the reason
(which I've been ranting about ever
since I discovered the internet):

The statuary tradition was abandoned in the West
after the Second World War.

But it does appear to be creeping back,
and the sculptor who made the above
maquette for a memorial to Barbara Jordan
also made the D.C. version of the Goddess

(and to be fair to him,
I think he was only trying to render
an accurate copy,
and he did the work without fee)

His name is Thomas Marsh
and an interview recorded these comments about his profession:

"Yes, there has been a trend toward abstract public sculpture and away from figurative public sculpture since the mid-20th century. I think that was inevitable, given the (temporary) dominance of expression theory over classical ideals, a power which manifested itself as Modernism. But Modernism is dying, perhaps in its death throes, because the “shock of the new” no longer shocks and originality alone never really was a sound basis for aesthetic value. Originality, though important, could not function long as the fundamental criterion for artistic excellence, as it did during the era of Modernism. Although the branch of modern art which emphasizes abstraction and pure form has much to be said for it, I feel the emerging primary role of art in human life will be personal and social transformation."

I have this nagging feeling
that he's both a better sculptor
than I am, and also a better writer.

But still -- making a large monument
that can be perceived as both meaningful
...and beautiful...
is an enormous challenge.

What sets Marsh above
most of his contemporaries
is that, like them,
he's a naturalist,
and a cartoonist,
he's also aiming for
the kind of high aesthetic
that can be found in the great sculpture
of the past. (Asia as well as Europe)

He may never get there...
but at least he's trying !


Anonymous marly said...

The “Medusa” and “Pan” are surprising. Pan so old and worn, Medusa bitten and electrified.

He is very good at projecting a human warmth, even where one might not expect it (as, in the Swanson relief, or the figure of the founder of Amgen. Warmth in relief seems more difficult, or am I wrong about that?) I like the gentle Joseph you picked, and the robust, muscular John the Baptist.

The portraits of contemporaries (or nearly so) sometimes distract me with clothes (and, sometimes, overly-familiar faces), though the Rathmann has modern clothes and does not. Do you think that it’s harder to get away from over-fidelity to resemblance when the subject is so terribly well known?

The surfing statue moves curiously between man and divinity, doesn’t it?—the board like a cross or stele, the offerings at his feet and around his neck, the beauty of the man.

June 17, 2007  
Blogger chris miller said...

Yes, the surfing statue is rather curious. I'd guess that the sponsors wanted to elevate that youthful pastime to a level of social respectability -- as found in the Boy Scouts (or Young Pioneers or Hitler Youth)

But the mismatch embodied in such efforts probably must always end up looking silly -- this one reminds me of a department store manikin in the young adult swimwear section.

What I like about this figure - and Marsh's work in general -- is that at least he's aiming for positive ideals and the monumental -- so he's simplifying the character of shapes rather than proliferating a mass of cutesy (but ultimately morbid) details found in most statues depicting children.

June 18, 2007  
Anonymous marly said...

What passed through my mind at first glance was that a wee, skin-tight Speedo might have reduced what you call a "mismatch."

June 18, 2007  

Post a Comment

<< Home