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Chris Lombardi: No Art by Committee

January 11, 2012

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The power of Jane Hammond’s Fallen lies in its simplicity. Let’s not clutter it.

By **Chris Lombardi**

sitting_soldier.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by William Andrus.

Last week we asked our readers and contributors what are the obligations of a critic writing about a political work of art. This is one of several responses we will publish throughout the week. The debate started with a review and its follow up.

Jillian is right; Hammond is under no obligation here. The concept is hers, and there’s nothing worse than art by committee. By that I mean if some peace group had created Fallen, for example, there would not only have been reference to Iraqi dead, but also a variety of victimization or oppression somehow represented.

I do wish I’d seen the exhibit because I first wondered whether the deaths of Iraqis and Afghans had been mentioned at all in its presentation. But I also think the power of the artist’s concept—its simplicity, its use of American tropes (as Steinhauer mentioned)—might be complicated even by such mentions.

Still, I do find myself wondering about how many families of Iraq/Afghanistan soldiers and veterans came to the exhibit, and if their responses were recorded. Many that I know hold next to their grief for lost buddies a keen awareness of the toll exacted on Iraqis. I’m thinking of vets like Geoff Millard of Iraq Veterans Against War, who now works for the Veterans Administration but testified about some of that damage before Congress; of Fallujah vet Ross Caputi, who has since married the Iraqi-American physician Dahlia Wasfi; of the other Warrior Writers, many of whom are only now trying to touch that huge grief/guilt matrix. It’s probably both harder and easier to do so in the visual arts: that war’s Guernica is likely not yet in progress.

I doubt that any of them would have asked the artist to encompass more than she did. Maya Lin’s genius work was almost obscured by the later extra statues, and I don’t want to suggest that cluttering Fallen would have honored the Iraq/Afghan dead any better.

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Chris Lombardi is a freelance writer and an editor at the nonprofit website Women’s Voices for Change.org, Her book, I Ain’t Marching Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, from George Washington to Bradley Manning is scheduled for Fall 2012 publication by University of California Press. Her work has been published by The Nation, Ms. Magazine, Poets & Writers, and elsewhere.

  Jillian Steinhauer: In Defense of Jane Hammond’s Fallen: A good critic doesn’t tell the artist what they ought to have done. More
 
  Lorraine Adams: Obligation or Wisdom?: The Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist weighs in on our debate over criticism and Jane Hammond’s Fallen. More
     
  Jillian Steinhauer: Best Political Art of 2011: The American soldiers honored in artist Jane Hammond’s Fallen installation are remembered as individuals instead of as a statistic. More
 
  Genvieve Walker: The Best Art of 2011: The best art wasn’t found in galleries this year. It was found online. More

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