Photo not included for copyright reasons.

"Full of sound and fury ..."

Henry Kirke Brown's equestrian statue of George Washington at Union Square "quotes" an ancient Roman statue of Marcus Aurelius. In Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan, I discuss why an artist would choose to quote another sculpture, and what effect it has in this case. Here I want to raise an issue that I omitted  from the forthcoming book for lack of space.

Facing Washington on the south side of Union Square is a conglomeration of ten objects on a 100 x 60-foot wall, collectively entitled Metronome.  Metronome  incorporates a digital clock, a genuine concrete cast of a chunk of Manhattan bedrock, and a hole that belches steam twice a day. It also includes (top center) an enlarged cast of the hand of Brown's Washington. The artists dubbed this "The Relic," and explain that

History is malleable and what is taken as truth is always in transition. Time and history are relative to ourselves. Monuments created to commemorate often loose [sic] their relevance.  Metronome asks to be considered as the opposite of a monument. The work as a whole is meant to confound the very idea of a monument. It dwells on the intangible and unknowable. … -- Kristin Jones and Andrew Ginzel, formerly at their website here

What's the difference between Henry Kirke Brown's work and Metronome? Both of them use the work of earlier artists. Brown didn't invent bronze or the equestrian statue, and he certainly didn't produce the first portrait of George Washington. He did, however, ponder what he knew, and come up with a statement (a theme) that he thought was important enough to convey to others. Washington honors a man who achieved an extraordinarily difficult task - it's not about the struggle, but about the serene triumph afterwards. This message is conveyed visually, as messages must be in the visual arts. If you know American history and recognize the country's first president, you can grasp that message. You don't require the artist's explanation.

Metronome, on the other hand, is just a bunch of weird objects unless you read Jones and Ginzel's lengthy exposition. Their work is roughly the equivalent of saying "Months minutes moon-phases Tomorrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day / To the last syllable of recorded time BOOM!" Tossing a famous line in the midst of gibberish doesn't make a work great, or good, or even comprehensible.

Jones and Ginzel request that I think of "The Relic" as "the opposite of a monument." Very well: I'll think of it as a pretentious $1.5-million piece of trash, and (to continue with Macbeth) "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

Further Reading