On the Embrace

There’s been plenty of reaction to the above sculpture, “Embrace”. You can get a sample of the it in places like the Washington Post, NBC, and the artistic website hyperallergic.. Not all of it, but a lot of the reaction has been….not good.

If you are unaware, the city of Boston unveiled “Embrace” just this month. The work is based on a photo of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King and it represents part of that photo. Conceptually that’s a great idea. In reality, it’s not, at least according to many who’ve seen it.

Having read a number of reactions to it, I think the problem can be seen if I ask myself  the question: is it a monument or a sculpture? It has elements of a monument: it is a large realistic work in bronze of a famous and celebrated couple. It also has elements of a work of art: it is symbolic and abstract in a way. As a result, it falls somewhere in the middle between monuments and  sculptures. And in falling in the middle, people get unsure of how to process it, I believe.

Of course, monuments can be abstract and non-representational: take the Washington monument in D.C.  And sculpture can be bronze and representational: think of anything by Rodin. Even monuments that are abstract and non-representational can be controversial, as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial showed when it was first unveiled. There is no formula for what works that will guarantee that a monument or sculpture will win acceptance.

I do believe, though, that if the Embrace was realistic like the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, it would be more liked. Likewise, if it were made of something other than bronze and made more abstract, people might be confused but less vitriolic about it. Alas, it is what it is.

I feel in the long run this work will come to be accepted and even loved. Works like this weave into the lives of people, and as they do, they become parts of the best of them. I also hope we see more sculptures and monuments of great African American leaders such as the Kings. That’s an idea we should all embrace.


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