Our weather seems to be doing its best to find painful and interesting ways to whipsaw between different combinations of wind, cold, rain, gloom and shine. It can be discouraging to try to plan an outdoor trip more than five minutes in advance and downright unpleasant to be out there sometimes. So in recognition of this fact Monumental’s going to spend the day indoors for a change and let someone else do the outdoor work.
In this case, photographer Lee Friedlander, who beat us to the monument-stalking by about 35 years. The Smithsonian possesses a large collection of photos he originally published in the 1976 book American Monuments, a collection of photos he took of monuments all over the country. The book is long out of print, but fifty-six of the photos are currently on display.
Given how many monuments we have here in DC, it’s unsurprising that a lot of the images on display from Friedlander’s book are set here in DC. Abraham Lincoln, Columbus Fountain, Commodore John Barry, General Ulysses S. Grant… a sizable percentage of the images on display are from our fair city. Many more, however, are not, and it’s an opportunity to see how some of the other places in the country memorialize people and events.
Even without the chance to see memorials without having to go to Texas or New Hampshire, however, Friedlander’s pictures would be worth your trip. So many shots of monuments make a herculean effort to capture nothing beyond the monument itself, ignoring the surroundings its been placed in. We’re as guilty of that as anyone. Friedlander, however, shoots the monuments so as to put us in the location.
The shot of the Father Duffy statue in Times Square, above, is in the SI collection but not currently on display. It shows the monument the way we’d see and experience it in person. It’s exposure not just to the memorial but to the surroundings that it was deliberately placed in, or perhaps more interestingly, what grew up around it.
Get out of the wind/rain/shine/gloom for a while and check out the exhibit. The Smithsonian holdings tool – which is delightful – lists the pictures as being in the American Art Museum, but I think a lot of us think of it as the museum with which it shares a building: The Portrait Gallery. It’s a permanent exhibit, so you don’t necessarily have to hurry over. But why wait? The pleasant parts of Spring will be here soon enough and in two weeks Monumental will be back with another local monument to view. In the mean time you can look at the pictures and have a cup of coffee under the shelter of the lovely Kogod courtyard.
Smithsonian American Art Museum/Portrait Gallery
Immediately inside and to the left of the F St entrance.
above photo courtesy of Eakins Press from their informational page on The American Monument, currently out of print.