As I mentioned in the earlier post, I am a child of the sixties, and the war in Vietnam affected my generation in painful ways. I have friends whose names are engraved upon this memorial wall.
I remember the war, I remember the design competition for this memorial, and I remember the controversy that surrounded it.
Here’s a bit of history on the memorial:
On April 27, 1979, four years after the Fall of Saigon, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc. (VVMF) was incorporated as a non-profit organization to establish a memorial to veterans of the Vietnam War. Eventually, $8.4 million was raised by private donations.
On July 1, 1980, a site covering two acres next to the Lincoln Memorial was chosen and authorized by Congress. Congress announced that the winner of a design competition would design the park.
By the end of the year, 2,573 registered for the design competition with a prize of $20,000.00 On March 30, 1981, 1,421 designs were submitted. All entries were examined by each juror; the entries were narrowed down to 232, then to 39. Finally, the jury selected entry number 1026 which had been designed by Maya Lin.
— From Wikipedia
And the controversy:
The selected design was very controversial, in particular, its unconventional design, its black color and its lack of ornamentation. Some public officials voiced their displeasure, calling the wall “a black gash of shame.” Two prominent early supporters of the project, H. Ross Perot and James Webb, withdrew their support once they saw the design. Said Webb, “I never in my wildest dreams imagined such a nihilistic slab of stone.” James Watt, secretary of the interior under President Ronald Reagan, initially refused to issue a building permit for the memorial due to the public outcry about the design.
Negative reactions to Maya Lin’s design created a controversy; a compromise was reached by commissioning Frederick Hart (who had placed third in the original design competition) to produce a bronze figurative sculpture in the heroir tradition. Opponents of Lin’s design had hoped to place this sculpture of three soldiers at the apex of the wall’s two sides. Lin objected strenuously to this, arguing that this would make the soldiers the focal point of the memorial, and her wall a mere backdrop. A compromise was reached, and the sculpture was placed off to one side to minimize the impact of the addition on Lin’s design. — From Wikipedia
So, who is Maya Lin? She is an American designer and sculptor with a strong focus on environmental concerns. In designing the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial, she wanted “to create an opening or a wound in the earth to symbolize the pain caused by the war and its many casualties. I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, and with the passage of time, that initial violence and pain would heal,” she recalled.
Again, controversy surrounded her design for the memorial. Not only was the untraditional design problematic for many, there were also concerns over Lin’s Asian ethnicity, her young age, and her lack of professional experience.
You can read more about Maya Lin here.
I have never seen the memorial, but there is a “traveling wall” exhibit — the wall recreated on a smaller scale — that visits different communities as part of a national healing process. The exhibit was here in our town a few years ago. It was impressive. You can learn more about the traveling wall here.
I hope you enjoyed today’s “Art Quiz” question and the history behind it. Be watching for more “Art Quiz” questions coming up.