General Question

jca's avatar

New Martin Luther King memorial statue sculpted by a Chinese sculptor - Could they not have found an American sculptor willing to do such a monumental piece of art?

Asked by jca (28944 points ) August 29th, 2011

I just heard and then verified that the new Martin Luther King memorial statue that is being unveiled soon (after the hurricane drama dies down) in Washington DC was sculpted by a Chinese sculptor, Master Lei Yixin. I found it hard to believe until I verified it. Could we not have found an American sculptor willing to do such a monumental piece of art? Is this just further proof that we are getting to where everything is Made in China?

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40 Answers

john65pennington's avatar

I totally agree with you on this one. jp

SavoirFaire's avatar

You’re right. It’s almost like Martin Luther King, Jr. wanted us to look beyond race and ethnicity or something.

thorninmud's avatar

I don’t know… I think MLK’s legacy cuts beyond distinctions like this. Like the Statue of Liberty, it’s rather moving to see how America and Americans have inspired the rest of the world.

jca's avatar

@SavoirFaire: It was made in China. It’s not just a matter of looking beyond race or ethnicity or something, it’s more a matter of aren’t there any Americans that might need a job? Just maybe?

Hobbes's avatar

The Chinese need jobs too, that’s why they make so much of the stuff we buy.

john65pennington's avatar

Hobbes, do you think this might be the reason the American economy is in the shape it’s in?

zensky's avatar

I’m just glad an Arab didn’t design the ground zero memorial.

rebbel's avatar

Apparently even Nike products are made in China.

Lightlyseared's avatar

You know whats really funny? King’s family have demanded $800,000 for the rights to use some of MLK’s quotes and image on the memorial.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I don’t think it’s a big deal who did the work. After all aren’t we all part of humanity? Just because they’re from a different place doesn’t make them all that different.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@jca I think when commissioning a work of art, you try to get the best artist for the job.

@zensky Very true. Imagine how it would have looked if America had admitted to the world it understood the difference between being an Arab and being a terrorist.

Blackberry's avatar

@SavoirFaire I laughed so hard…....

@jca I understand, but I don’t think it matters in the grand scheme of things.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

A problem of talent? A biographical essay of Frederick Hart written by Tom Wolfe gave me the rather strong impression he was the only virtuoso classical sculptor left in America. And Hart died in 1999.

Brian1946's avatar

Yeah, why didn’t they hire someone from the sculptor’s union? ;-p

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@jca Here’s another way to look at it. The sculptor could be exactly like you or I, he just wakes up everyday thinking what a lousy government he has to put up with.

Aetori's avatar

It doesn’t matter who makes the statue or from what country the sculptor is from, that is just racist and stereotype. What matters is the quality of the work : >.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I have no problem with it. Perhaps he’s a good sculptor, though I don’t like how the statue looks. Why would it simply must be someone American? That goes against what MLK would have himself said.

Blackberry's avatar

@Simone_De_Beauvoir I think it could have looked better as well.

Allie's avatar

@Aetori I don’t think this was meant in a racist way. I think this was more along the lines of why couldn’t we find an American sculptor to sculpt a piece of someone important in American culture. (Or maybe I’m wrong, but that’s how I understood it.)

Not to say that non-Americans can’t make pieces like this, but I don’t think that was meant to be taken as “How dare we let a non-American make this!”

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@Allie I disagree. I read it exactly in that way. That’s why it’s probably best to be very clear when talking about these kinds of things.

Aetori's avatar

@Allie Even though it wasn’t intended, it sure is an insult to any person that isn’t American including myself.

jca's avatar

People can interpret it any way they want to, and they will and I’m not going to argue with people over what I intended because people will believe what they want.

However, @Allie‘s interpretation of my intention is what I meant. I will add that because our economy is in such a shambles, to manufacture something in China (when already, so much of what we purchase is from China and other countries- for proof, go to Walmart) when we have people right here that need jobs AND are totally competent to do a piece of artwork like this, why could we not first try to utilize someone in the United States?

ragingloli's avatar

does america even have master sculptors?

RocketGuy's avatar

Note that the Statue of Liberty was made in France.

josie's avatar

The commission was probably cheaper with the Chinese artist.

jca's avatar

@RocketGuy: It was and it was a gift.

CWOTUS's avatar

Generally, artistic commissions such as this aren’t shopped around for a low bidder. There’s typically a competition to model the work that’s desired (which, since it’s a creative piece, can’t be specified as “we want a statue this tall, in this pose, facing this way and with these particular quotes” etc.). The artists competing for the commission attempt as well as they can to depict their “vision” for the project, and submit that to the judges within the specified time for submittals. Then the judges attempt as well as they can to weigh all of the competing models and proposals, and then pick one that reflects their wishes and can be erected within the budgetary constraints that they have.

It’s not a fucking “jobs program”, where all the government has to do is pick someone to distribute our money. Thinking that it is explains a lot about the state of our current educational system.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

@jca Making a piece of art and your latest plastic cup isn’t the same thing. There is no evidence we can go on that points to the MLK statues being commissioned to the Chinese artist for reasons of cheap mass-production. And while we’re on the subject of complaining about goods being made in China, it is the American people willing to settle and being in need of cheaper prices that drives this global trend and we’re all implicit in it.

flutherother's avatar

I don’t care who sculpted the memorial but shouldn’t he have used a darker coloured stone.

Buttonstc's avatar

Not for nothing, but does anybody remember the tremendous controversy (and similar sentiment expressed about ethnicity) over the Vietnam War Veterans Memorial.

Maya Lin was the architect and expressed that, had it not been a blind judging of the over 1400 entry’s, (labeled by number only) it’s doubtful she would have been chosen. One can hardly blame her for that sentiment, what with prominent people publicly referring to her as “an eggroll” and other digs at her Asian heritage.

Nowadays the memorial comes in at tenth on the list of American’s favorite pieces of architecture so at least some people can learn from history and realize that a work can stand on it’s own merits apart from the last name of the designer.

Does anyone know how the decision was made to use this particular sculptor and who was involved in the making of that decision ? For all we know it might have been a similar selection process but I’m not familiar enough with the facts of the selection process for this particular work.

But I would imagine that a lifelike large sculpture is a difficult enough skill with the added difficulty of a contemporary figure whose likeness is familiar to the majority of the public the world over (as opposed to a figure from the far reaches of ancient history). I would imagine it’s a pretty short list of those with that particular skillset and the desire would be for whomever is at the very top of that list.

If this man was at the top of that list, it makes sense that he was chosen upon that criteria and that criteria alone.

MagicalMystery's avatar

I think it’s an insult to all of the sculptors who are from the United States, regardless of their ethnicity. Maya Lin was from the United States, so she does not totally compare to the guy who did the Martin Luther King statue.

Jeruba's avatar

I’m not sure what I think about this, but I do think there’d have been an issue with an American sculptor too: is he or she white? black? nonwhite and nonblack? Regardless, there’d have been complaints. This way the complaints are along national lines rather than racial ones. This decision redefines the “us” and “them” of the case and might therefore have had some wisdom behind it.

Buttonstc's avatar

Yes, Maya Lin was raised in the United States and that’s precisely the point I was trying to make. Since she did grow up among us, one would think that would forestall people getting their shorts in a knot about someone with an Asian name being the creator of the memorial. But she still got called an eggroll and other slurs. She was still viewed as “the other” even tho she was part of us.

Whatever her name or ethnicity she was, if her design was chosen as the best out of more than 1400 submissions, that should have been good enough.

There were also many who didn’t initially like the design itself, but that should have been a separate issue entirely. But it wasn’t.

Somehow, the perception was that because the war was fought on Asian soil, someone of Asian ethnicity (regardless of US citizenship) was automatically unworthy to be the designer of the memorial simply due to her last name.

And you don’t see a connection ?

IMHO a work of art should be judged solely on it’s merits alone regardless of the artist’s last name. And how much more so for a memorial for the man who proclaimed in one of his most famous speeches that he dreamed of a day when a person is judged upon the “content of his character” rather than externals (such as skin color, ethnicity, or place of birth or residence).

According to your line of reasoning, it’s perfectly OK to be opposed to a Chinese sculptor SIMPLY because he is not a US citizen. The quality of the work matters little since there are plenty of US sculptors who could do just as well. But where are they?

And according to your reasoning, it’s OK to reject his work out of hand because he doesn’t live here so that’s totally different from Maya Lin because she did live here. But how different is it really ?

They are both being rejected for exactly the same reason. Their ethnicity. The quality of their work is ignored because they are perceived as “OTHER” and therefore undeserving.

I see the two cases as totally parallel (except for the minor detail of current geographical location).

The primary thing which would make Maya Lin different would be if her US citizenship had made her acceptable. But it DID NOT. She was still the Asian “other”. Didn’t matter where she grew up or called home.

That’s a clear parallel to me.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Coincidentally, the sculptor Frederick Hart was commissioned to create the bronze sculpture that was added to the Vietnam War Memorial as part of a compromise to placate those displeased by Maya Lin’s plan. Both Lin and Hart were present at the statue’s dedication. According to Tom Wolfe, Lin asked Hart how his models put up with the molding process, assuming Hart made plaster or foam castings directly from them. Hart was so shocked that Lin thought he had done this that he was rendered speechless. Wolfe used this little vignette to point out the gulf between artists inline with the “art establishment” and the outsider Hart who clung to traditionalism. Part of me wonders if this was something he was hammering on too hard, though. I think Wolfe paints with much too broad a brush at times.

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

I got the story partly wrong, Lin did not attend the dedication but was invited to the foundry where the statue was cast. You can read it here. Wolfe also mentions some other American sculptors whose work received “civic reviews only” and were ignored by art critics.

martianspringtime's avatar

I don’t consider MLK’s famous ideals to be country-specific, so it wouldn’t even occur to me to look into the country of origin of the sculptor. Sure, MLK is a significant American figure, but his ideas would have been just as admirable regardless of where he lived or what race of people he affected.

apparently Maya Angelou has even taken issue with the quote they used because it makes him seem ‘arrogant’. maybe she should have done it!

mattbrowne's avatar

To make this a matter of the sculptor’s citizenship undermines the very dream Martin Luther King had. His 21st century version might contain elements like

I have a dream that one day artists will not be judged by the color of their skin, their language, their ethnic origin or their nationality, but by their skill and the content of their character.

And why shouldn’t an Arab design the Ground Zero Memorial? Bin Laden was an Arab. Ergo all Arabs are evil? Bad artists or architects?

Here’s an interesting fact: The Reichstagskuppel, the new symbol of a reunified Germany was designed and built by the English architect Norman Foster. There were proposals submitted by German architects as well. But Foster’s proposal was considered to be the best. Maybe the same applies to Lei Yixin.

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