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Aesthetic Sanity — Finally

Posted by acdtest on December 7, 2003

Aesthetic Sanity — Finally

ichael Kimmelman, chief art critic for The New York Times, in a piece in today’s Times, gets it right about the competition for the Ground Zero memorial, and gives a proper what-for to the equalitarian simpletons who would champion the idiot notion that the tastes of the common man should be consulted and reflected in aesthetic matters of public moment; an issue previously examined on this weblog.

Writes Mr. Kimmelman:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: now that everyone agrees that the ground zero memorial finalists are a disappointment, there’s only one thing to do.

Throw them all out.

You have the power to do so. Use it. This is in part a memorial to extreme bravery in the face of overwhelming force. Here’s a chance to be brave. We know you still haven’t presented your winning choice, which will no doubt be modified from the plans we now see. But don’t bother. Nothing short of extreme, last-ditch action has a chance of succeeding, because the process has been crucially flawed from the start. Instead of beginning with a firm idea about the meaning of the memorial, we started with a timetable. Instead of guaranteeing that the best artists and architects participated in the process, we pandered to the crowd.

When the finalists were announced, you said the submission of designs by “people from 63 countries and many continents . . . people of different faiths, ethnic, racial and cultural backgrounds” reaffirms “our common humanity and is a testament to the solidarity and shared values of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, friends and families from every corner of the world.” And so it does. But this does not bear on the quality of the final design. Does anybody today care that the pope did not hold an open competition for the Sistine ceiling? We should insist on salvaging this most important of public projects, as well as our city and the nation, from a legacy of compromise that leads to banality. Let’s start again – this time, the right way.

Forget vapid populism. Limit the competition to participants of the jury’s expert choosing. Then let the jury select the best plan, if and when there is one. If that’s elitism, so be it.

And amen! to that.

Once a final design for the memorial is chosen in the right way (assuming that happens, that is), the next hurdle will be to prevent any meddling with the design by Larry Silverstein, the Ground Zero site’s developer and leaseholder, who has so far managed to thoroughly trash the architectural integrity of the winning Libeskind overall design for Ground Zero. I suspect (but don’t really know) the specter of Silverstein’s meddling hand has already made really first-rate artists more than a little chary about getting involved with the memorial project even by way of simply making a design submission were they invited to do so.

In any case, kudos for Mr. Kimmmelman, and for the New York Times as well for running the piece.


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