Images of Power and Control

12 Aug

big_cat

When I first sat across from this cat I was disturbed.  My friend resells objects he finds at flea markets.  I always considered his eye for aesthetics quite good.  This object was something he chose not to resell, but decided instead to decorate his home with.  A trophy in the way of Walter Palmer’s skinning and decapitation of Cecil the lion?  Several steps removed perhaps, but still as potent.

lion_guard

Two lions guard the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.  I do not yet know the author of these sculptures; perhaps Arthur Putnam, an artist whom the museum’s benefactor Alma Spreckels patronized.  Lions have an universal appeal as guardians of entrances.  The lion as protector will become a cultural artifact of memory just as the grizzly bear, long ago driven to extinction, continued to exist as the State of California’s empty icon of Anglo conquest.

columbus_boy

Giuliani Monteverde, Italian, 1837-1917. Columbus as a Boy, 1872. Marble. Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Gift of Marc and Ellen Hagstrom Kapellas, in memory of Emil A. Hagstrom. 1991.49

Exploration, conquest, extraction.  History demands tribute to the feats of western expansion.  We honor this tradition in the image, whether carved, painted, or photographed.

chinois

After Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, French, 1827-1875. Le Chinois (Asia), ca. 1872. Bronze. Legion of Honor, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Museum purchase, Collis P. Huntington Memorial Fund and Walter Buck Fund, California Palace of the Legion of Honor. 1968.2

Lesser men than the idols of our historic pageantry also claim room to create their own monuments of conquest and destiny. The barbaric history of lynching in America testifies to that with the record that remains of numerous photographic keepsakes.  I welcome the time when trophies extracted through violence come to an end.

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