01.27.2023 – I Don’t Have to Get Mad

I don’t like them.  But I don’t have to get mad.

Statues are in the news again, but this time not those that are being torn down.  Rather, a couple of new statues have been unveiled, and I don’t like either of them.  At least not now, and likely never.

You may have heard of the “Embrace,” a bronze statue honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., recently dedicated in its new home in the Boston Common.  Conservative cable news hosts and Twitter influencers have made all sorts of unkind and sometimes lewd comments about the statue. People are mad about it.

Can’t say I like “Embrace.”

This week’s New York Times has another story about a statue temporarily placed on the roof of the state appellate courthouse in Manhattan. She is called “NOW” and is described in the Times article as “a shimmering, golden eight-foot female sculpture, emerging from a pink lotus flower and wearing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s signature lace collar. Staring regally ahead with hair braided like spiraling horns, the sculpture, installed as part of an exhibition that opened last week, is the first female to adorn one of the courthouse’s 10 plinths, dominated for more than a century by now weathered statues representing great lawgivers throughout the ages — all of them men.”

I can’t say I like “NOW.”

“NOW” joins Confucius, Moses, Zoroaster, King Alfred the Great, Saint Louis, Manu, Lycurgus, Solon, and Justinian who have stood on the roof for over a century representing humanity’s great lawgivers (Muhammed was once among them, but his statue was taken down long ago in deference to Muslim belief about images of the prophet and long before statues were partisans in the culture wars).

Besides the startling clash of “NOW’s” yellow bronze with the marble of her compatriots on the roof, her mythological inferences seem out of place with the depiction of historical lawgivers, though we might be reminded that the courthouse statuary includes symbolic female depictions of Justice, Equity, and Truth.

So, informed art critic that I am not, I don’t much care for “Embrace” or “NOW” – or some of the ideology that may be in their creators’ minds.  But I don’t have to get mad.

Interestingly, the National Review, not normally known for its wokeness, published a column by its resident art critic on the “Embrace” statue.  His conclusion?  “It’s unorthodox and not boring, and people will probably come to love it.”  Maybe I will come to love it.  Or maybe not. But I don’t have to get mad.

As has been noted many times by many people, our culture is a culture addicted to rage and anger.  One writer says social media is lighter fluid in a world where we love to see sparks fly. We like to get mad.  Rage is our first response to things we do not like.

Sure enough, as I write this having read the New York Times article published this morning (an article with all its ideological biases on full display, by the way), the usual suspects are shooting lighter fluid in hopes of a major conflagration.  One headline screams about a “‘Satanic golden Medusa’ abortion statue outside New York City Courthouse.”

When the Vietnam Memorial was first unveiled in 1982, I did not much like it. Among other things, I though it detracted from the Lincoln Memorial – a real memorial if their ever was one.  When we visited the Vietnam Memorial a decade later, we experienced its haunting affect as have so many others.  It is a powerful work of art.

Time will not necessarily change my opinions about “Embrace” and “NOW.”  I am likely never to like them.  But I don’t have to get mad.