As we struggle to determine the future of Confederate monuments, we might do well to step back and ask a broader question: “What do we really want from war memorials?” I decided to explore that question by visiting five well-known war memorials in Washington, DC, to consider their social functions and artistic qualities.
NEWTON, MASSACHUSETTS When Christopher and Joelle Zakak purchased a late 19th-century Queen Anne Victorian house in Newton, Massachusetts, they intended to demolish the aged relic and rebuild on the site. Local zoning regulations, however, required that they wait one year. Being artists, as well as enterprising developers, they began using the empty rooms as studios.
GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN Grand Rapids Art Museum From the meteoric launch of her artistic career in 1981 to the present, Maya Lin has harnessed an elegantly Minimalist vocabulary to convey potent messages, frequently using her work to demonstrate humanity’s impact on the natural environment. “Flow,” Lin’s recent exhibition, was devoted to sculptural works addressing the need to be more mindful of water.
Considering the long-held view that, for ordinary people, manufacturing jobs hold the key to the American dream, there is something almost elegiac about the often reported fading fortunes of blue-collar workers. But is material, or physical, labor really a thing of the past to the extent that so many seem to think?
BOSTON Boston Sculptors Gallery
“TransAtlantic,” Jessica Straus’s recent exhibition at Boston Sculptors Gallery, consisted of an immersive, room-filling, mixed-media installation that viewers could enter and roam around. Parts of the floor and wall were covered with World War II-era maps mounted on plywood tiles, showing the coastlines of North America and Western Europe, with the Atlantic Ocean stretching in between.
NEW YORK Whitney Museum of American Art
The Kanders protest may have pushed the Whitney to deal with its cultural and ethical responsibility, but that was only one of many issues raised through the work of the 75 artists and collectives on view.
New Orleans native Zarouhie Abdalian, who recently returned to her hometown after stints in Philadelphia and Oakland, is a multidisciplinary artist whose work often interrogates site-specificity. Using sound, performance, and sculpture, she draws attention to the overlooked by framing a space and restoring forgotten aspects of its layered history.
DALLAS, TEXAS Conduit Gallery
We like to imagine that the arc of history follows some kind of trajectory, like a book or a movie. Artists like Margaret Meehan, however, recognize that there is no clear chain of events, that history is illogical, directionless, and unpredictable.
Hank Willis Thomas, who was recently awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, has emerged as one of the most prolific artists of his generation. Formally trained as a photographer, over the last 15 years, he has considered the relationship we have to images and what they say about our priorities and privileges, focusing primarily on popular, found imagery from history, sport, and fashion.
HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA, CANADA Studio 21
After several decades in New York, including 17 years teaching at the Parsons School of Design, Sydney Blum moved to Nova Scotia. Her recent exhibition “Icarus–Colour–Space” (her first solo show in her adopted home) featured five sculptures that seem to float, rippling, in space—like sections of soap bubbles hovering just on this side of corporeality before winking out of existence.