Huh. I didn’t know they were working on a Martin Luther King memorial on the Mall in DC. But they were, and here it is. Opened yesterday.
As a piece of civic monumental art, I really, really like this thing. It’s beautifully modeled. And — because beautiful is not enough for the modern artard — it’s also conceptually neat.
From the Dream speech, it’s a play on the line, “out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” You can see there’s a sort of mountain of granite in the background, and King’s rock is flying forward out of it, and he is emerging from the rock.
It isn’t often that I like modern civic art. Most of it is long on concept and short on art.
The really astonishing thing? The commission was given to a Chinese artist, Lei Yixin. I am totally not going to rag on them about that; I think it was a surprisingly mature decision from an area of civic life not known for mature decisions (O, the contemporary angst that Lady Liberty was a frog).
As the committee head put it:
“We chose him because we really believe that Dr. King’s message is true that you should not judge a person by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character,” said Johnson. “In these terms, we are thinking artistic character.”
Oh, there was drama. Lots of it coming from disappointed American artists, especially ones of color, but none of them had experience in stone work at this scale.
Oh, and the design was firmly rejected by the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts.
Yeah. There’s a U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. Who knew? Seven white dudes, apparently.
Still. There is something slightly…ornamental around the eyes, isn’t there?