Archive for August, 2011

MLK in stone

August 29, 2011

On Friday morning I paid visit to the recently unveiled Martin Luther King Memorial. The monument is situated among the cherry blossoms on the north end of the Tidal Basin, adjacent to FDR and looking across at Jefferson. It is a lovely setting, and clearly a prominent national memorial is due to King, but what about the monument itself?

First, the scheme: The memorial plaza is a semi-circle that opens onto the Tidal Basin. At the center is a massive statue of King, facing the water. The rim of the plaza is formed by a wall that increases in height as it approaches the center. At the center of the wall is a carved mountain and the memorial’s central conceit: The middle third of the “mountain” has been cut away (creating the main entrance) and this stone slab has been placed at the center of the plaza and used as the material for the statue of King. OUT OF A MOUNTAIN OF DESPAIR, reads the inscription on King’s statue, A STONE OF HOPE.

Very literal!

Can you see the "action lines" on the side of the statue block, like MLK swooshed out of the magic mountain? Does that look corny to you? (Sorry the shot is from behind the fence: that morning was private viewing for Alpha Phi Alpha, the fraternity that organized & financed the memorial.)

I’d say that this memorial would be an absolutely terrific addition to downtown Sioux Falls, but as a rare addition to the National Mall it does not rise to the level. It is not a powerful piece of public art like the Vietnam Memorial that illuminates its subject / uses the space to engage the viewer (e.g. descending into the nadir of the war, where the names pile above your head). The King memorial is perfectly neutral, generic. There is nothing about the concept specific to or enlightening about Dr. King; if you replaced the statue & the quotes with another public figure it would make the same amount of sense. There is no attempt at historical context or any suggestion that he was a leader within a large cultural movement—the only context is “Great Man”. (Without the social context, the power King derived from fusing the universal (justice, equality) with the particular (social conditions of his time) is altogether missing. We are left only with the universal. His particular genius & his particular courage—the reasons he deserves a national monument—are essentially absent from the site. [A foreigner visiting this memorial might not even realize King was a black American!])

‘Great Man’ is also the theme of the towering frozen-Hans-Solo statue. As many have remarked, the arms-folded King looks so stern and aloof, like a Disapproving High School Principal / Absolutist Superhero (with a scroll). (Umm, is that how he lead? When we think of King do we remember him as standing alone? Above it all?) Another strange thing about a memorial so literalist in design is that the statue, to my eyes, does not look like King! Why is his face so bubbly & droopy? And the “mountain of despair” looks like a cartoon mountain, as if it were formed with one of those plastic beach molds for making sand mountains. Also, when you enter through the mountain—supposedly the main entrance—you view & approach the back of King’s head. What is the thought here? Can you imagine walking up the stairs at the Lincoln Memorial to find Abe’s chair facing away?

So I wasn’t too thrilled by the new memorial! Maybe it’ll grow on me like the WWII jawn (sike!). Or maybe it is success enough in the fact of its existence. And any public space engraved with King’s words is a space improved. It’s just a pity that the opportunity did not meet with greater artistry.


Because we are currently surfers of internet blogs, perhaps it’s appropriate to paste a quote from Dr. King about computers & the hazard he foresaw in a slavish embrace of modern machines. Written nearly 50 years ago.

Mammoth productive facilities with computer minds, cities that engulf the landscaper and pierce the clouds, planes that almost outrace time—these are awesome, but they cannot be spiritually inspiring. Nothing in our glittering technology can raise man to new heights because material growth has been made an end in itself, and, in the absence of moral purpose, man himself becomes smaller as the works of man become bigger. Gargantuan industry and government, woven into an intricate computerized mechanism, leave the person outside. The sense of participation is lost, the feeling that ordinary individuals influence important decisions vanishes, and man becomes separated and diminished.

When an individual is no longer a true participant, when he no longer feels a sense of responsibility to his society, the content of democracy is emptied. When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society. This process produces alienation—perhaps the most pervasive and insidious development in contemporary society.

And again on the obstacle of mechanized culture:

We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.


Easy Answer

August 28, 2011

Get Ready for the Future, it is Murder

August 13, 2011

Look at just how evil Bear is! Also FAT and LAZY! I’m surprised the artist didn’t think to depict a Dorito-stained welfare check-stub and/or skull-shaped bong (cf. Bull’s chiseled pecs and proactive approach!)

Friday Blues

August 13, 2011

J. Emory sticker gallery (1)