EDITOR’S NOTE: Work is now progressing on the National World War I Memorial, to be sited in Pershing Park in downtown Washington, D.C. In 2016, its design commission selected the competition-winning team: Joseph Weishaar, Sabin Howard, and GWWO Architects, who had proposed the concept “The Weight of Sacrifice.” For two years, sculptor Sabin Howard (b. 1963) has been creating “A Soldier’s Journey,” the memorial’s 65-foot-long bronze relief, which depicts not only soldiers, but also nurses, wives, and children. The project has taken him often to New Zealand’s Weta Workshop, far from his wife, Traci L. Slatton, who has been inspirational in helping formulate his ideas around the memorial’s narrative element.
The official groundbreaking occurred in 2017, and this February, Howard will make a formal presentation to the Commission of Fine Arts, which has oversight over such projects in Washington. The New York Academy of Art (Howard’s alma mater) will exhibit his preparatory materials March 21-23, and he will give a public lecture there on March 21. Also in March, a documentary film about Howard’s project will be released. For details, visit sabinhoward.com. To mark this major commission, we invited Prof. Donald Kuspit to offer his thoughts on “A Soldier’s Journey” and its contexts.
A Soldier’s Journey: Sabin Howard’s World War I Memorial Monument
By Donald Kuspit
The following is a preview of the full article as seen in Fine Art Connoisseur (January/February 2018).
Surveying the war memorials in Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital — among them the Iwo Jima Memorial, the American Navy Battle Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, all on the National Mall — one quickly realizes how unusual Sabin Howard’s “A Soldier’s Journey,” a World War I memorial destined to be placed in Pershing Square, is.
Not only conceptually but physically unusual, exceptional, unconventional: Howard’s soldiers are “very close to human scale so that they’re accessible, and they’re also at almost street level so it’s not way, way up above people so people will reach out and touch the memorial,”* unlike the soldiers on the Iwo Jima Memorial. They rise above us, as though of another world, on a higher plane of existence — certainly in a separate space — than our own, rendering them emotionally as well as physically remote — literally untouchable. Our relation to them is peculiarly abstract rather than experientially concrete: we admire them, look up to them, but we are unable to engage them, share their experience, empathize with them, identify with them.
In contrast, we are participant observers when we view Howard’s memorial, not only because we are on the same level as his soldiers but because they are not larger than life and fixed in place forever, as the Iwo Jima soldiers are. They are immortal, above the fray, but Howard’s soldiers are mortal, still in the thick of the battle.
Watch a clip from FOX5NY on “A Soldier’s Journey” here:
*Howard quoted in Eric Dehm, “Renown Sculptor’s WWI memorial is coming to DC and it’s epic,” connectingvets.com, September 15, 2017.
Author Bio: DONALD KUSPIT is the Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art History and Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the senior critic at the New York Academy of Art. He has doctorates in philosophy (University of Frankfurt) and art history (University of Michigan). Among his many books are The End of Art (2005) and The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist (1994).
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