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Lesson Plans

Analysis of Art Criticism on VVM (long)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Nalin (nalin)
Sat, 14 Sep 1996 19:03:55 -0700 (MST)

These are all quotes from articles of criticism about the VVM, broken down
into the components of criticism as I feel they relate to. You may feel
that statements belong in another category, and perhaps you are right.

Lorena in Tucson
Grant F. Scott, Journal of American Culture, Fall, 1990 (v13, n3, p 37-40)
"Mediations in Black: The Vietnam Vetrans Memorial"

* VVM is composed of black granite
* We cannot avoid seeing here is our reflection inverted "V"
* predominantly horizontal rather than vertical

* movement is downward into the earth, it modestly harmonizes with
its natural surroundings
* classical triangular composition to force the viewer's eye upward
* gestures towards the Washington monument in the east, the Lincoln
memorial in the west
* the wings of the memorial point rather than encompass, indict
rather the include or meliorate

* "You have to touch it. there's something about touching it" To be
sure, this response is one we are always rebuked for in traditional
museums, or are subconsciously persuaded against in the cool bright
whiteness of the Washington or Lincoln monuments.
* assume that Vietnam war was really no different in kind from the
other wars and that it deserves to be remembered with a traditional realist
* the mythical nature of its experience . . . the VVM makes us work
to obtain it full affect
* Metaphorically, we are placed in a battlefield, and forced to
identify the bodies of our fallen comrades. As its the case with Odysseus
or Aeneas, the search for the dead is difficult and must be undertaken with
the aid of ritual.
* No other memorial encourages people to leave valuable mementos and
artifacts in quite this way, or to honor the dead with a hush that is
usually reserved for churches.
* VVM is first and foremost a text, an idea that is subtly
underscored in its overall from which suggests an open book
* By moving through the ritual of locating and touching the name we
symbolically reenact a burial that the nation as a whole neglected to
perform. From the Wall we resurrect and then bury our loved one or our
friend, but properly this time and with the kind of private ceremony
that this monument uniquely fosters and that seems only appropriate for the
kind of war Vietnam was.
* the mythical hero venture into the underworld because he has lost
his navigator, has himself gone astray . . . It is an act that momentarily
halts the progress of narrative time in order to heal a past wound.
standing before the VVM, we are placed at a similar threshold, where we
attempt to reconcile our world with the world of the dead
* Itself a rift or scar in the earth, like a seam in time, the
memorial is the place where we come not only to read the war and bury the
dead, but to stare at the wound in the nation's body and to participate in
its healing
* mythical journeys to the underworld, where the living are
permitted a brief communication with the dead; the wall itself figuratively
disrupts time in a way that encourages this strange kind of rendezvous.

* this monument will not tolerate indifference. Neither can its
geometry be said to be apolitical
* conventional memorials employ patriotic rhetoric of images
designed to make us emulate the fallen hero, this one urges us to remember
the dead and avoid repeating their actions
* most unchivalrous monument, for it implicitly criticizes the
presiding ideology of memorials that would glorify was in order to seduce
an entirely new generation of young men into battle . . . no overt visual
symbols of glory or patriotism . . contemplative nature of the memorial
* Instead of diminishing or paralyzing us, it embraces and welcomes,
drawing us inexorably downward and inward

Tom Carhart, The Washington Post, November 15, 1981 C5 "A Better Way to
Honor Viet Vets"

* black ditch

* (if changes were made) The Vietnam Vetrans memorial would then be
in beautiful harmony, rather that stark contrast with the Lincoln Memorial
and the Washington monument

* are we really to feel honored by a black ditch?
* Even if this black gash is not a statement of dishonor and shame,
it is clearly at least a statement of sorrow . . is a forbidden political
statement . . . I feel no sorrow, I regret the deaths of brothers in arms,
but they died noble, principled deaths, and I salute them and honor them.
* (white), the symbol of faithful national service and honor

* formal failing of this design is that it violates one of the
critical criteria of the design competition - that it must make no
political statement.
* A few cosmetic alteration to the design have already been agreed to
and I think that's really all that's called for here. If the color were
changed from black to white, . . . the walls were brought above ground, and
an American flag were installed at the juncture of the walls then all the
problems would disappear
* [On the use of black granite from Sweden or India] Since we fought
a war for America, shouldn't the materials used to build a memorial in our
honor be exclusively American?
* presence of the flag . . . same cohort of young Americans out
of every generation who have been willing, when called upon to literally
offer our lives for America (entitled to flag)

The "VASARI" Diary, ArtNews, January, 1983 "Vietnam Memorial War"

* two 200-foot-long walls (later expanded to 250 feet) of polished
black granite to be set into a gradual rise in the landscape of
Constitution Garden, meeting at a 136-degree angle at the point where the
walls and slope would be at their highest (ten feet). The names of the war
dead, chronologically arranged in the order in which the servicemen fell,
were to be incised in the stone, with only the dates of the first and last
deaths, 1959 and 1975, to be recorded.

* used no vertical lines, nothing to "disturb" the integrity of the
location, an area roughly between the Lincoln and Washington monuments
* placed near one another at the entrance to the memorial area. There
the sculpture could strike "A chord of recognition" for many, while
preserving the feeling of the original design, about which he said: "I
think the litany of those names is enough to bring enormous emotions to
everyone's heart."
* [additional monument] was to featured prominently toward the apex
of Lin's design, with the 50-foot flagpole in the near distance

* Lin's proposal followed the guidelines set forth by the Vietnam
Vetrans Memorial committee, which included the stipulations that "the
emphasis is to be on those who died," that the memorial be "without
political or military content," and that it include the "suitable display
of the names of the 57,692 Americans who died in Vietnam.
* commission was particularly pleased with the jury's choice of a
design that had "great respect for the environment."
* She cites as primary models European memorials constructed after
the First World War, especially one in France designed by the British
architect Edwin Lutyens, where the experience of walking into or thought
the memorial provides the stimulus for reflection
* a statement was made on behalf of surviving veterans to the effect
the they were neither represented nor honored by the monument
* Vietnam veterans to decide on an appropriate additional memorial
(sculptor Frederick Hart)
* It was an emotional hearing, especially on the part f various
veterans who pleaded in favor of the statue as a literal representation to
which the survivors could relate.
* Lin's appeal to the commission to protect the integrity of the
design, voicing fears that the additions, if placed centrally, would turn
it into "no more than an architectural backdrop"
* "The three soldiers act as a kind of Greek chorus, facing the
monument, commenting on its meaning. We were lucky with the statue; it
could have been kitschy, but it isn't

National Review, September 18, 1981 "Stop That Monument"

* Her design calls for two black granite walls wedged into the earth
in a large V shaped, rather like low-lying retaining walls.
* One these black granite walls, the names of the 57,692 men who died
in the war will be carved

* surrounded be contoured mounds of earth so that the visitor does
not see it until he "stumbles upon it" . . . an unexpected, black "rift in
the earth"

* based upon the clear political message of this design . . .
memorialized in black, not in the white marble of Washington . . . mode of
listing the names makes them individual deaths, not deaths in a cause; they
might as well have been traffic accidents. The invisibility of the monument
at ground level symbolizes the "unmentionability" of the war which war, as
we say, is not in fact mentioned on the monument itself. Finally, the
V-shaped plan of the black retaining wall immortalizes the antiwar signal,
the V protest made with the fingers

* objection to this Orwellian glop
* American soldiers, who died in Vietnam fought for their country,
and for the freedom of others, and they deserve better than the outrage
that has been approved

James J. Kilpatrick, "Finally, We Honor the Vietnam Dead"

* the memorial offers only the names of the dead
* memorializing them in the order in which the fell

* simplicity of the design, based upon two intersecting granite walls

* In keeping with millennial custom, we have honored our warriors,
and we have especially honored those who went to war and did not return
* the message that needs to be conveyed: these were 57,653 men and
eight woman (all nurses) who died in the line of duty\
* The design speaks of sorrow, not of glory, not of victory, not of
defeat. This is all it says of Vietnam

* Let me venture my own opinion: this will be the most moving war
memorial ever erected.

Peter Ehrenhaus, Critical Studies in Mass communication, March, 1988 (v 6,
n 1, p 94-7)

* situated on the Mall in Washington, D.C.
* Construction tool place only when a flagpole and a traditional,
representational statue were added to the plan

* [None]

* [Hubbard] VVM provides no "clues" to its cultural meaning ...
visitors come to the VVM with no expectations of "guidance in human
dilemmas" ... Conflicting emotions over the war therefore are not resolved
but intensified by the VVM
* [Griswold] interrelationship of angles, shapes, and points of the
compass fix the VVM's meaning ... VVM's therapeutic function for veterans
... commemorative tradition
* [Foss] prototypic antiwar statement ... serve both as a symbol of
opposition and as a symbol to those who fought in it ... evidence to
support symbol of honor, no so for symbol of opposition ... competing
interpretations requires more tempered conclusions about VVM's "true"
function, its "real" meaning ... 5 factor for appeal: violation of
conventional form, absence of traditional symbols; nonthreatening,
"feminine" stance; lack of information about the war; emphasis on those who
died; and multiple referents
* [Haines] VVM's ambiguity ... locates the war and its veterans
within the ... American mythic memory ... use as justification for future
policy initiatives ... defined as a sacred site of healing and unification
... openness of social context ... renegotiated field in which veterans and
others enact Vietnam's meaning
* [Ehrenhaus] approach the memorial as social context ...
phenomenology of silence ... all forms of symbolic expression "speak" to
the extent that we can use them in sociopolitically sanctioned ways; to
know the meaning of a symbolic expression is to know its social use. When
we are ignorant of a form's use, it is meaningless ... Because the memorial
violates expectations for commemoration, visitors initially encounter
* The Memorial has ... nothing like that of the letter "V". A more
accurate descriptor might be "chevron-shaped"

* [Ehrenhaus] Its power is its refusal to preach collective truths
about the meaning of the past and the obligations binding individual and

Elizabeth Hess, Art in America, April, 1983 (v 71, n 4, p 120-127)
"A Tale of Two Memorials"

* Competition-winning design was a combination Minimalist
sculpture-earthwork. It consisted of two walls --each 250 feet long and
made of 140 panels --beginning at ground level at each extreme, both walls
gradually rose to a height of 10 feet at the monument's center, or apex of
the angle ... polished black granite as her material this turning the
walls into mirrors ... list the 57,939 Vietnam causalities not
alphabetically, as is customary, but in the order in which they were killed
... build then into a rise in the landscape, with only the inscribed side
visible. The spectators, walking downward along the length of either wall,
would this have the dramatic sensation of descending into the earth ...
Original plans had called for a single memorial to be built on Washington's
prestigious mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument
... Lin's modernist design for an austerely simple, V-shaped wall ..arrange
for the addition of a second memorial. A larger-than-life-size realistic
statue of three GIs in battle dress ... Accompanied by a 50-foot flagpole

* finally decided that both Hart's statue and the flag would be
placed 120 feet from Lin's walls, near the entrance to the memorial site.
Hart himself supported this decision, understanding quite well that the two
works of art would clash if placed too close together.

* Lin explains, "and in the process, I wanted them to see their own
reflection in the names."
* [Carhart] first to publicly attack the color of the stone; "Black,"
he said, "is the universal color of shame, sorrow and degradation in all
races, all societies worldwide." Carhart demanded a white memorial ...
(names in non-alphabetical order) "random scattering ... such that neither
brother not father nor lover not friend could ever be found."
* "wailing wall for anti-draft demonstrators ... V-shape was being
interpreted as the symbol of the antiwar movement
* the monument as sinking into the earth was interpreted by some
commentators as an admission of guilt
* [Hess on addition of statue] a competent homage to an abstraction
called "vets" --as traditional as a Hallmark card
[Tom Wolfe] abstract and elitist

* the two memorials will inevitably challenge each other with
contrary points of view. But this is one confrontation that Maya Lin should
easily win