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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Public Art In Arlington: The Pentagon Memorial---Minimalism At Its Finest

When a catastrophic national event and memorial is so successfully stripped down to its most fundamental elements and a feeling of hope and pride still remain, this is minimalist sculpture at its finest.

The Pentagon Memorial, with its 184 stainless steel memorial benches arranged in groups according to ages, forces one to reflect on more than a roster of 184 names on benches. It is very personal and you feel unique individuals and wonder what they were doing at that age in life. It becomes a frozen moment in time while you walk about each age grouping. You observe a bench for a three year old girl, barely more than a baby, and wonder if she was in nursery school in 2001. You think how today she might be looking forward to entering junior high.

You see individuals in their 30's and 40's who were parents, or maybe about to buy a home for the first time and working hard in their careers. Were they going on a business trip or a vacation? You see older individuals who were perhaps contemplating retirement and looking forward to visiting grandchildren in a few months for the holidays.

The loose gravel underfoot forces you to hear the crunch of your own footsteps and at times you feel a little annoyed by it. Maybe it is there to remind you that you are still here, and they are not, and then you feel almost guilty for a moment.

When you start to see the overall shape of the cantilevered benches, they look like wings, perhaps signifying the memories and journeys really have not ended for these 184 individuals. Whether one sees the benches as plane wings or angel wings or something else entirely, it does not matter and this is what works with great minimalist sculpture. Even children can relate and interpret such art while adults can see layer upon layer of possible but similar meanings.

The running water beneath the benches seems to unite all the individual benches and reminds one that life goes on or maybe of a destination to be traveled to eventually by all of us.

Just as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial set a new artistic standard with its minimalist design, the Pentagon Memorial goes even further and locks you into undulating emotions. While I think it purposefully takes you through this range of emotions, it still manages to leave you with a feeling of hope and pride as Americans and gratitude for these 184 patriots. And, like many Americans, I cannot understand how any of us could ever fail to be proud to be an American and to have this sculpture memorial in Arlington County.

Copyright 2009
Cindy Ann Coldiron

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