Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"From out of Many, One" Mall Installation

In Washington, artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada creates a giant face on the mall - Washington Post (September 30)

 September 30 at 6:23 PM [JB question: Does not this image [ left] -- which (to me at least) has a certain je ne sais quoi socialist realist quality to it in its pretentious monumentality (I think Stalin would have approved of it along the Volga) -- bear an uncanny resemblance to our president?

I already hear objections to my comment because the president has dark skin, but his face -- a least as I see it, I won't say "let's face it' -- is not defined solely by its color but mostly his other facial characteristics/expression.

But, more important, I thought the Mall, the memory of our nation, commemorates only deceased chief executives (if indeed the installation resembles Obama) ...

Also, as a historical note, may I observe, without any kind of political parti pris, that the author of the below article could have mentioned that, for all its importance to keeping our United States united, "E Pluribus Unum" is the unofficial motto of the United States; the official motto, adopted in 1956 by Congress, is "God Bless America." The title of the opus -- a near sacred phrase of our Republic  -- adds to its pretentiousness.

Instead of a face-grabbing project (God knows how much it cost), how about improving the Mall into a more ecologically friendly place with plants, flowers, shrubs, attracting friendly bugs (including bees and butterflies) and more birds (kids love them), you name it, that are far more sustainable than this pharaoh-like image brutally invading (correct me if that's not the right word) national space, now vulgarized by an Orwellian eye, that can only be fully "appreciated" from the commanding heights (Washington Memorial, the Smithsonian Tower) of the imperial capital? 

In my modest opinion, the best memorial regarding presidents/citizens of our country (how I can't stand the word "homeland "!) of any creed, national origin, color, sexual orientation, you name it, is the one humbly honoring FDR  near the National Archives, a block away from the Mall, as he wanted it: 

And it's not even on the Mall!

Image from

The enormous face emerging on the Mall in Washington is laid out on six acres of open space next to the Reflecting Pool and just west of the National World War II Memorial. Although workers were still constructing the image last week, using dark potting soil on a background of lighter-colored sand, an eye and the nose and chin of a young man were already clearly visible from high in the Washington Monument.

From ground level, Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada’s “Out of Many, One” looks like an eccentric landscaping project; but from the windows of the obelisk, more than 500 feet above the Mall, the work reveals an attractive young man in three-quarter profile, seeming to stare through a large gap formed by trees. Even from that height, he gives the uncanny impression of looking straight at you.

The face is a composite of dozens of photographs the Cuban American artist took in Washington, hence the double meaning of the title, “Out of Many, One.” The beauty of the face seems to have a lot to do with its composite derivation, capturing a suggestive mix of ethnic and racial hybridity. But the phrase, in Latin, is also familiar from our national currency, and the construction of the image, in two sharply contrasting tones, looks a lot like the engravings used on our bank notes.

It also introduces an intriguing sense of scarcity into public space: The number of people who will see the portrait will be strictly controlled by the usual complexity of ascending the Washington Monument. Art is often the domain of the privileged, but here, the “lucky few” — those who make it “to the top” — will not be the wealthy but those who manage to score the free admission tickets for access to the monument.
Rodríguez-Gerada has done similar projects in other cities, beginning with an enormous face of Barack Obama in Barcelona, Spain, in 2008. The Washington iteration of the series was spearheaded by the National Portrait Gallery as part of a dual effort to break out of the confinement of traditional museum space and explore the boundaries of portraiture. The image on the Mall will remain there for about a month, slowly fading as weather erodes the design.
Like large-scale primitive sculptures, or geoglyphs, the image plays with our sense of perspective and scale; but it also subtly changes our perception of the Washington Monument, turning a familiar landmark — one that no proper Washingtonian ever visits — into a new destination. And like a mandala, the portrait is designed to be ephemeral. One thinks of an old saying about our economy: “Too big to fail.” But this is big, and designed inherently to fail, or at least disappear. There is whimsy in the portrait’s mix of monumentality and transience.
The real miracle of it, however, is that it happened at all. In all of Washington’s bureaucratically encumbered landscape, no site is more complicated and contested than the Mall. But David Ward, senior historian at the National Portrait Gallery, says the project came together in a few months. Much of the labor was volunteer, and Clark Construction, among others, donated materials and services.
A grand landscape portrait by Cuban American urban artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada has been installed on the Mall and will remain through Oct. 31. The project uses sand and potting soil to create a giant portrait viewable from the reopened Washington Monument.
On a rainy, windy day last week, Ward was almost giddy. It is art, he says, that simply makes him happy.

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post si

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