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Monday, December 10, 2012

Remembering an Architect: The Richard Morris Hunt Monument in NYC

New York, NY. Richard Morris Hunt monument. Fifth Avenue at 70th Street.  Daniel Chester French, sculptor.  Postcard view, early 20th century (above) and recent photo (Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012).  The monument is a time portal, unchanged in a hundred years. 

 Remembering an Architect: The Richard Morris Hunt Monument in NYC

Poor architects, I think they rank  behind soldiers, politicians, writers, artists and a host of other notable professionals when it comes to being commemorated in marble or bronze, or any other permanent material.  Of course, an architect will always say his (or her) buildings are monuments enough.  Maybe true - but I've met very few architects without healthy egos, who would say no to a monument like the one for 19th-century America's leading academic and society architect Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895).  Charles Follen McKim of McKim Mead and White only got a plaque in the pavement at Columbia University, which he designed.  (What's your favorite memorial to an architect?)

 New York, NY. Columbia University. Charles Follen McKim commemorative pavement. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Hunt's monument is lovely.  Sculpted by Daniel Chester French and unveiled in 1898, it is dignified, but intimate; architectural; but sliding into the cityscape/landscape of Fifth Avenue against Central Park like the planting of an appropriate tree.  The monument is designed as a free-standing semicircular portico (an exedra) with a curved bench at the center of which is a bronze portrait bust of Hunt beneath which is inscribed:

October 31, 1828
July 3, 1895
In Recognition
Of His Services To
The Cause of Art
In America
This Memorial
Was erected 1898 by
The Art Society
of New York

Two allegorical statues of Architecture and then Painting and Sculpture stand guard at the ends of the colonnade. The names the organizations in which Hunt played a major role are inscribed.

New York, NY. Richard Morris Hunt monument. allegorical figures of Architecture (top) and sculpture and painting (below).  Daniel Chester French, sculptor.  Photos: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Hunt was a pivotal figure in American architecture.  He bridged high Victorian art and French-inspired classicism, and he laid the foundation for and academic architectural training in architecture in America  that shifted emphasis from engineering to art.  Hunt's aesthetic led to the integration of architecture, sculpture and painting at the end of the 19th century the defined the design goals of the so-called Amerasian Renaissance.  The sculpture of the monument, Daniel Chester French play a major role in this movement, and it explains the prominent given to painting and sculpture in a monument to an architect. This integration of the arts is also central to the conception of the Metropolitan Museum of Art facade, which Hunt redesigned in 1895, shortly before his death, and which was completed in 1902.  

New York, NY. Metropolitan Museum of Art facade. Central part designed by Richard Morris (1895) and completed by Richard Howland Hunt (1902). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2007

Despite his fame in his lifetime, only a small number of Hunt's buildings still stand.  In New York City, the best known of these is the central block of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, facing Fifth Avenue just a half mile north of the monument. Hunt was the favored architect of the wealthy Vanderbilt family and while the Fifth Avenue Vanderbilt mansion has been demolished, the great Newport, Rhode Island mansion known as The Breakers, completed just before his death, as well other great houses, are today popular tourist attractions.  The enormous Vanderbilt mansion known as Biltmore in Ashville, North Carolina also survives. 

Newport, Rhode Island. The Breakers. Richard Morris Hunt, architect (1895). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008

Newport, Rhode Island.  The Breakers, detail of mosaic floor.  Richard Morris Hunt, architect. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2008.

 New York, NY. Richard Morris Hunt monument.  Mosaic decoration recalls Hunt's work. Photo: Samuel D. Gruber 2012.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Belgium: Anglo-Belgium War Memorial

Brussels, Belgium Anglo-Belgium War Memorial.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2009)

Belgium: Anglo-Belgium War Memorial (1923)

Europe is covered with war monuments like a measles patient has spots.  You can find them in every village and town, in every country.  Big cities have big monuments, and small ones tucked away in small parks and on street corners.  These vary tremendously in their effect as vessels of memory, as works of at and as urban decoration and the backdrop for public ceremony.  

I am partial to the monuments of World War I.  It was a big war with terrible consequences, and many of the memorials are big monuments with bold forms in striking postures - though few if any were allowed to depict scenes of suffering and death.  A good example of this is the Anglo-Belgian War Memorial in Brussels, Belgium, commissioned by the British Imperial War Graves Commission and designed by the British sculptor Charles Sargeant Jagger (1885–1934).  In Belgium it is known as the Brits Oorlogsmonument in Dutch and the Monument Britannique in French.  It is built as a wide wall-like cenotaph.

Brussels, Belgium Anglo-Belgium War Memorial.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2009)

Unlike many monuments, it does not commemorate a heroic battle, but rather the support given by the Belgian people to British prisoners of war.  The tall central figures in high relief represent a British and a Belgian soldier.  On wither side are low reliefs depicting wounded British soldiers aided by Belgian peasants.  It was unveiled by the Prince of Wales in 1923.  The monument is carved from Brainvilliers stone.  Casts of the reliefs are at the Imperial War Museum, London.  A plaster cast of the Belgian soldier is held in the Army Museum in Brussels.

Strength and nobility of purpose were the overriding themes of World War I monuments  - as if the posture of these monuments could make the population forget the immeasurable and often pointless suffering and destruction of the war.  For those memories one needs to turn to post-war literature and art. Still, the bold and sometimes heavy-handed imagery of these monuments endured, and Jagger's sculptures for the Brussels monument foreshadows the public sculptural style favored by the 1930s by powerful image-conscious states - whether Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Communist Russia or the democratic but capitalist United States.

 Brussels, Belgium Anglo-Belgium War Memorial.  A pedestrian hurries past the monument, without considering its purpose.  Photo: Samuel D. Gruber (2009)

This type of war monument is very different in form and purpose to many earlier war memorials - such as those American Civil War monuments in Detroit, Michigan (1872) and Troy, New York (1891) I have written about, and the contemporary and nearby Infantry Soldiers Monument in Brussels at place Poelaert (1935), that served as central organizing points in the urban plan, punctuating an important intersection, and often serving as a visual focal point for long street vistas. Such monuments often include tall columns or obelisks.  

This Brussels monument is a wall to be passed by, but become animated when it serves as the backdrop to commemorative ceremonies.  When used like the scaenae frons of a theater, in front of which the appropriate - but varied activities take place, memory can be triggered, reformulated and invigorated.  Or, it may more resemble in purpose a temple front - before which the same activity takes place year after year following a remembered but formulaic liturgy, important to those who have first-hand experience of the event commemorated, but entirely foreign to all others.  For all such monuments deciding how they will be used determines how they will be understood.

The resemblance to a giant gravestone encourages the placement of wreaths and flowers upon the projecting ledge at the base. There are many examples of this type of monument.  One of the best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Monument, dedicated in 1948.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

For Veterans / Armistice Day: More Monuments of Jews who Died in World War I

For Veterans / Armistice Day: More Monuments of Jews who Died in World War I  
by Samuel D. Gruber (all photos Samuel D. Gruber 2011)

(cross-posted from Samuel Gruber's Jewish Art & Monuments)

Today is Veterans' Day - originally  Armistice Day - celebrating the end of the First World War - the War to End all Wars (that didn't).  In honor of all Veterans, but especially Jews who fought and died on both sides in World War I, I refer you to some images of Jewish war memorials from Italy, Hungary and the Czech Republic that I first put only line in May 2009.

I am also adding a new one from the New Jewish Cemetery in Worms, Germany that I visited in 2011. worms, is much better know for its Old Jewish Cemetery and medieval synagogue and Judengasse, but it had a prosperous Jewish community until the rise of Hitler.

The Jewish community had been trying since the late 19th century to establish a new burial ground, since the old Jewish cemetery was filled.  In 1910 the community was able to establish the Hochheim cemetery, right next to the Hauptfriedhof Worms (Friedhof Hochheimer Höhe), with a separate entrance. The new cemetery was inaugurated in 1911, just a few years before the war.  

Inscribed in gold letters over a triumphal archway is the phrase "Unsern Henden" (Our Heroes). 

 Nineteen of Worms' Jews were killed in the war, their names are listed on the monument.

The monument was restored in 2006 with help from the Rotary Club Worms.

Ruth Ellen Gruber has posted more examples of Jewish War Monuments on her blog. Click here.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Troy, New York's Towering Civil War Monument at the Center of Renewed City Life

Troy, New York's Towering Civil War Monument at the Center of Renewed City Life
by Samuel D. Gruber

Troy, New York. Monument Square (formerly Washington Square).  Historic postcard and contemporary view.

I love looking at Civil War monuments, in part for the story they tell about the war and those who served, fought and died, but also because more than any other group of American public artworks they are also often integral elements in the cityscape, or sometimes in a cemetery landscape.  This is especially the case in Troy, New York where the 90-foot tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument at Monument Square, with its bronze statue "Call to Arms" perched atop its summit, sits at an intersection of River Street, 2nd Street and Broadway at the heart of a revived and increasingly vibrant downtown.  The Saturday Farmers' Market spreads out on all ides of the triangular "square" and north on River Street.  

Troy, NY. Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Fuller & Wheller, archs.; John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

The Square is now part of the Central Troy Historic District, the largest urban National Register Historic district in the United States. 

The hey-day of Civil War monuments also corresponds to the greatest period of American, figural and monumental sculpture, that era we now refer to as the American Renaissance, dominated by sculptors Augustus Saint-Gaudens (1848–1907), Frederick William MacMonnies (1863-1937) and John Quincy Adams Ward (1830-1910), but also graced with many other fine (though now largely forgotten) artists. 

Troy, NY. Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Fuller & Wheeler, archs.; John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

The use of a tall column for a military monument is ancient in origin, and Trajan's column in Rome is the best known example.  But tall columns as monuments were popular in the United States in the 19th century, the best known being Robert Mills' Washington Monument in Baltimore (1815-29).  The Troy monument was erected in 1890-91 and dedicated in September 1891.  The design is by  Albany architects (Albert W.) Fuller & (William Arthur) Wheeler. The construction contract was awarded Frederick & Field, of Quincy, Mass.

The cornerstone was laid on Decoration Day, Friday, May 30th, 1890.  In addition to the usual laudatory speeches, there was "a large procession of veteran soldiers and the military organizations the city, under the direction of Major-General Joseph B. Carr, chief marshal, and the singing of dedicatory and patriotic hymns by five hundred school children."  Even more lavish celebrations, as described in the New York Times, marked the completion and dedication of the monument the following year.

The robust tri-partite base of the monument is one of the last full-blown examples of a medieval style made more muscular and angular, pioneered by Philadelphia architect (and Civil War veteran) Frank Furness.  The style that was popular in American after the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial exposition (and Furness's Provident Life and Trust Building of the same year), but was replaced in most public buildings and monuments by Roman-inspired classicism after the success of the "White City"of the 1893 Chicago Colombian Exposition.

The base supports four bronze relief plaques representating the cavalry, infantry and artillery branches of the Union military service and a fourth plaque representing the naval battle between the Monitor and Merrimac.  Atop the tall granite shaft is the bronze statue titled " Call to Arms" by New York sculptor James E. Kelly (1855-1933). Kelly was a leading illustrator and sculptor of Civil War scenes and the creator of many monuments throughout the country. 

Troy, NY. Soldier and Sailors Monument.  John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Kelly's bronze reliefs revive the lively style of Civil War illustration popularized in magazines such as Harper's during the war, but they also draw from classical Greek and Roman sources; casts and engravings of which were plentifully available in late-19th century America.  But it is also likely the Kelly was aware of the Edward Muybridge's studies of animal locomotion widely presented since 1878. The composition of Kelly's cavalry charge brings to mind the famous Parthenon frieze, but the lively movement of the horses suggests Muybridge's motion studies. 

Troy, NY  "Calvary" from Soldier and Sailors Monument.  John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
Athens, Greece. Detail of the Parthenon frieze. 
"The Horse in Motion" by Edward Muybridge (1878)

Kelley also provided a bronze panel celebrating the Union artillery in which the big wheel of the cannon takes central place in high relief. 

 Troy, NY"Artillery" from Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber
 Troy, NY. Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Fuller & Wheeler, archs.; John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Troy, NY. Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Fuller & Wheller, archs.; John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

 Troy, NY. Soldiers and Sailors Monument.  Fuller & Wheeler, archs.; John E. Kelly, sculptor (1890-91). Photo: Samuel D. Gruber

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Storm King Art Center: The Perfect Art Park

Storm King Art Center: The Perfect Art Park
text/photos by Samuel Gruber

A few weeks ago I was Downstate visiting and took the opportunity for a half-day visit to Storm King Art Center in Mountainville, New York, not far from West Point.  Storm King's rolling hilly acres of lush landscape filled with modern sculpture is the inspiration for scores of sculpture parts - most more urban than this - across the world.

Here is a gallery of labeled photos

 There is program of meaning in the individual works or on their placement.  Most of the sculptures are studies in form, materials, color and the interplay of light and shadow and solid and void.  Still, for those who come prepared, certain associations are inescapable, and perhaps the artists meant them to be so.

Alexander Calder's great stabile "arch" near the part entrance recalls ancient isolated Roman arches such as those at Benevento, Timgad or Salonika, or in the Roman forum.  Once straddling important roads they are not solid, stolid sculptural monuments.

 The extraordinary collection of David Smith sculptures near the musuem building demonstrate is movement away form the human form, but all his works are human scaled, and they are like an assembled of people, or massed together, a sculptural Greek chorus commenting on the works around them.

Noguchi great hilltop Momo Taro grows out of the earth, like lithic eggs hatching new ideas.  This is work closest to the prehistoric passions and archetypal elements.

 Alice Aycock's  Three-fold Manifestation II, on the other hand, is forward looking, or at least was in the 1980s.  It looks space-age modern, but in the era of stream-punk seems quaintly, but elegantly, utopian in am early Star Trek sort of way.

Mark di Suvero's massive and magisterial steel Frog Legs is in its siting, size and symmetry among the most monumental works in the park.  It is also the most "historic," in that it so closely recalls the traditional of giant hilltop  crucifixes.  Was the intent?

On the other end of the scale is Alexander Liberman's Adonai, titled after the euphemistic name of God sanctioned by Judaism for millennia.  Liberman's tumbled massive forms are powerful and enigmatic, the jostling lines of the steel tubes recall the unpronounceable (and unknowable) tetragrammaton written to indicate the name of God, here perhaps a stand-in for the language of art.

Of course, there are older inspirations for the such a park lay-out, and Storm King draws its forms, plans and strength from the disposition of prehistoric megaliths (think Stonehenge), Roman villas (think the Getty Malibu reconstruction of the Villa dei Papyri from Pompeii), Renaissance pleasure gardens (think Villa Borghese or the Boboli Gardens, Florence), and English pastoral landscape parts (think Downton Abbey on PBS).

One sees works by many of the artists represented at Storm King on College campuses (think Princeton) and Corporate Parks (think Pepsico), but the works never look so good as they do here.  We only had a few hours so covered no more than half the area.  In any case, since exhibitions and installation large and small change annually, it is worth a return visit.  I was surprised not to see good photos easily accessible online, so am posting this album.  These image represent only a fraction of the extensive Storm Collection.  I'll probably write more on some of the individual works, such as The Jewish aspect of Liberman's  "Adonai," and the sculptural potentialities of plastic exhibited in Manuel Bromberg's "Catskill."

Meanwhile, take a trip this summer to Storm King.  You will not be disappointed.  Go for the whole day, take a picnic lunch, and get there early to rent a bicycle.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Detroit's Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument

Detroit's Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument
Text and photos: Samuel D. Gruber

I was just in Detroit for a few days and spent a lot of time walking around Downtown - an area of grand architecture and monuments - as well as many under-utilized, neglected and derelict buildings.  But some areas,  like the Campus Martius, have been re-developed.  Now the Michigan Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, designed by sculptor Randolph Rogers and dedicated in 1872, has a modern back-drop, and watches traffic.  I love Civil War monuments.  They so earnestly embody nineteenth century values and aesthetics, and they are also invariably public minded.  They are often commanding, even imperious in their size and strident positioning, but they invariably engage the viewer.  Some, like this monument and ones I've seen in Troy, New York and Providence, Rhode Island, are very busy.  These are the early monuments, they have to be careful to acknowledge all the heroes.  Layer examples get simpler, grander; and often more remote.

The Detroit monument is built up like a wedding cake, constructed of a series of rising octagonal sections. The lowest  are topped by eagles with raised wings;  the second section  is surmounted by four male figures depicting the navy, infantry, cavalry and artillery of the United States Army.   Above, four female allegorical figure rest on pedestals, and represent the big themes:  Victory, History, Emancipation, and Union.  There are also four reliefs of the Union leaders Lincoln, Grant, Sherman and Farragut.  Randolph's figures are dignified, even brittle, and very stiff.  It will be almost a generation before the Saint-Gauden's introduces robust and energetic forms in American monumental settings.

At the monument's apex is the heroic Michigania, or Victory, brandishing a sword in her right hand and raising a shield in the other.   She is magnificent, though today she might be conducting traffic.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Re-Introducing The Discover Syracuse Freedom Trail

 Cross-posted from My Central New York

Re-Introducing The Discover Syracuse Freedom Trail 
by Samuel D. Gruber

In July 2007, while President of the Preservation Association of Central New York, I had the privilege of unveiling with then-Mayor Matt Driscoll and others the 11-sign Freedom Trail through parts of the City of Syracuse designed to commemorate and teach the important history of Underground Railroad, Abolitionist and African-American historic and cultural sites in the city. Syracuse was a center of the Abolitionist Movement and the Underground Railroad.  The famous Jerry Rescue had already been commemorated in a striking monument on Clinton Square erected in 1990, but there was little else to tell the story of people and places throughout Syracuse.

The Discover Syracuse Freedom Trail project was a partnership of the City of Syracuse and the Preservation Association of Central New York and celebrates momentous events in the Syracuse that took place mostly between 1830 and 1860. The signs also remember abolitionists – white and black -who helped make Syracuse a center of the anti-slavery movement in America. Individuals commemorated included Jermain and Caroline Loguen, Prince Jackson, Samuel May, George Vashon, Thomas Leonard, Stephen Smith, Hamilton White, George and Rebecca Barnes, William “Jerry” Henry, James and Mary Baker, and many others. The primary research and much of the writing for the project was done by esteemed historian Judith Wellman.

Syracuse, NY.  September 2006 unveiling of design for Freedom Trail signs. Parks Commissioner Pat Driscoll, PACNY President Sam Gruber and members of the Network to Freedom.

Syracuse, NY.  July 2007 unveiling of  Freedom Trail signs.  PACNY past-president JAE Evangelisti, Councilman Van Robinson, Mayor Matt Driscoll, PACNY President Samuel Gruber and others.

Syracuse, NY.  July 2007 unveiling of  Freedom Trail signs.  PACNY president Samuel Gruber, Parks Commissioner Pat Driscoll and Glen Lewis, Parks Department project coordinator.

I'm afraid that these signs are still too-little known, and that those who do know them now take them for granted.  It took a lot of research and hard work by many people (mostly volunteers) to create this project - and now, during Black History Month I want to remind people of its existence.  It was mean, too, to be only the beginning.  There are still more places to mark, and this trail can be and should be the basis of a local history curriculum for schools and civic, community and church groups. 

I look forward to walking and biking the full Freedom Trail route when the weather warms up.  

Read the entire post about all the sites and signs here, and see pictures.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kosovo: Pristina Partisans' Memorial Offers Lesson in Forgetting

Kosovo: Pristina Partisans' Memorial Offers Lesson in Forgetting
by Samuel D. Gruber

Pristina, Kosovo.  Partisans' Monument. Photo: Ivan Ceresnjes

I recently wrote about the bad state of the New Jewish Cemetery in Pristina, Kosovo. This is hardly the only neglected memorial site in the new country.  Not far is the large memorial to Kosovo's partisans who died fighting the Germans in World War II. The once-grand site in now forlorn; vandalized and stripped of the names of the dead it was built to remember. Ivan Ceresnjes has sent photos, and more can be found on-line.

The monument complex erected to remember Kosovo partisans who died in world War II was built at Matičansko Brdo in 1961. Designed by architect S. Lichina, it consists of several curved concrete arms, surround in a central plaza.On the concrete walls were originally set 270 stone medallions with the names of the fallen, including a number of them Jews. The memorial has been vandalized, stripped of all medallions and covered with graffiti.   Once a grand lesson of socialist history and nation building, it is now a erased text, a course in forgetting.  Only its stark forms remind the viewer of something lost, and dimly recalled aspiration. 

Pristina, Kosovo.  Partisans' Monument. Photo: Wikimapia
Pristina, Kosovo. Partisans' Monument, detail of vandalism. Photo: Ivan Ceresnjes

Pristina, Kosovo. Partisans' Monument, Detail of removed stone plaques with names. Photos: Ivan Ceresnjes

The Pristina monument is just one of thousands of memorials erected throughout (the former) Yugoslavia during Tito's long rule (many can be seen documented on Flickr), especially in the 1960s and 19760s when, after Yugoslavia's break with the Soviet bloc, it strove to forge a unified and dynamic national image.  Of these monuments there are score of large strikingly modern - even futuristic - designs that are architectural in their size and massing, but sculptural in the plasticity of their form.  The best photos are those of Jan Kempenaers (found in his book SpomenikRoma Publications).  They commemorate the past dead, those heroes who laid the foundation for Tito's socialist federation; but they were also forward looking, among the most radically different architectural designs off the 1960s and 1970s.  perhaps the best know of these monuments is the one dedicated in 1966 at the concentration/death camp of Jasenovac (Croatia). Today them seem to belong to sci-fi landscape from Star Trek rather post-war Europe. It was a period an enormous architectural and sculptural optimism.

Jasenovac, Croatia. Monument at Concentration Camp to victims of genocide during World War II.  Designed by Bogdan Bogdanović and dedicated in 1966.  Photo: Bern Bartsch (2009)

Robert Burghardt offers a selection of these monuments in the The Form und Zweck Zwei fanzine, and writes evocatively of their haunting, often looming modernism 
"Those monuments have an abstract, often monumental, but always unusual and peculiar formal vocabulary in common. They are located in the centre of Yugoslavian modernism, because they mark its starting point and they announce the modern outlook. In doing so, they still proclaim a future, which already has become past.  They are expressions of this future and they refuse to stop epitomising its coming. They keep calling: Ahead!  Spectres still inhabit the monuments, but their context, their audience has been lost."  
Burghardt goes on to say:
"As War-monuments they are unique: They do not express the fighting and death, but life, resistance and the energy by which they were carried. They are directed forward while they mark the starting point for a new society, whose products they are. In their abstract vocabulary they allow for an appropriation of meaning that bypasses official narrations, especially today, after their context has become invisible. They open the scene for numerous associations; they could be ambassadors from far-away stars, or from a different, unrealised present. The openness which originates in the abstract language of the monuments is a visual manifestation of the emancipation from the Stalinist dominance of socialist realism in the eastern bloc, in which future is represented only in a happy-overreaching form of the present. The monuments invoke a utopian moment, stick to aniconism, and translate the promise of the future into a universal gesture.