Another thought about New York.
My first morning was at the 9/11 memorial (already mentioned). And what kept striking me, over and over again, was how quickly the present can become archeology, the quotidian an artifact.
Digging deeper into the wreckage from the towers (which would itself be preserved, curated, displayed as not only a memorial but a museum piece), those working to excavate the remains of the lives lost eventually ran further into history than they intended. They upturned bronze objects from colonial Manhattan. A key. A letter A. The curl of an ornamental gate. The figure of a soldier, his legs missing (an echo of the collateral of the wars to come).
A few days later in the Guggenheim Museum, I saw the exhibit But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise: Contemporary Art of the Middle East and North Africa. Beautiful pieces, all with the shadow of this history that led to 9/11 and with the shadow of the history of everything that came afterwards.
Abbas Akhavan created a piece called “Study for a Monument” – bronze casts of flowers,
leaves, twigs, seeds of plants native to the Tigris-Euphrates, endangered due to the development in that area. Looking at them, I felt for a moment so keenly what I could imagine the artist intended that it’s like I was holding his hand. The plants, doubly frail (as living things, as
endangered species), doubly transient, suddenly immortalized.
I can’t get over that moment of transformation. A half-melted calculator that becomes a testament to… who knows? when a plane flies into a building like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Knick-knacks that fall out of pockets or are thrown away and get buried by the rest of the city getting on with its life. A flower before wilting being cut and moulded and cast in bronze.
A last thought: We went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art between these two visits and encountered Washington Crossing the Delaware, one of the largest paintings I’ve ever seen (12 feet high and over 20 feet long). Imagination of a moment depicted life-size.
I followed the gaze in the painting of one of the oarsmen looking down trepidatiously at the water and ice they were rowing through and saw
a city’s skyline over a river.
Which is of course impossible; the painting was finished in 1851, long before skyscrapers. But I love this accidental call-forward to what our nation would become, and where the painting itself would ultimately find its home.
A memorial is to the past. What do you call a monument to the future?