The Wall: The 'Greatest' Modern American Memorial

The current issue of The New Yorker contains a long, informative article by Adam Gopnik on the new New York City 9/11 Memorial Museum. In it, Gopnik—the magazine’s noted art critic—goes over the history of American public memorialization. In doing so, he good things to say about Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which he calls “the greatest of modern American memorials.”

Lin’s design, he writes, “pursued the line [of “minimal geometric abstraction”] with a radical passion, taking the classical purity of the American tradition and of the Great War memorials, and further stripping them of any overt symbolism….”

The “astonishing success” of The Wall following initial criticism of its design, he writes, “was a marker in the triumph of American abstraction: no one could any longer argue that pure form was incapable of expressing profound emotion. The laconic eloquence of the minimal gesture, its potent lack of insincere rhetoric and overstatement, was apparent.”

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he concludes, “remains the model memorial for our time, the polished wall a sound board for the individual lament.”


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