Monument Envy

 

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What is kitsch and why do dictators love it so? An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (via Joe Moran) uses the opportunity of President Clinton’s visit to and subsequent official photograph with Kim Jong Il of North Korea (above) to discuss this compulsion for excessive monumentality. If you saw the photograph of the ex-president and current glorious leader in front of a tsunami wave (above), you could not but be struck by its super-duper grandiosity.

“This is no ordinary painting but art with a purpose,” writes the WSJ‘s Eric Gibson. “What seem to our eye as limitations are the result of deliberate intent. It’s a piece of political propaganda. As such it belongs to a subspecies of kitsch known as totalitarian kitsch, where art’s sole raison d’etre is to bolster a dictatorial regime and glorify its leader.”

Leaders seem addicted to monuments and monumentality. They get monument envy, but, as Dr. Freud would say, sometimes a monument is just a monument. (Below from top: monuments for Sadam Hussein, Benito Mussolini, Josef Stalin, The Shah of Iran, and Kim Il Jong.)

Read this for a somewhat related post by Edward Tenner on the latest attack on Obama’s symbolism.

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About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

3 thoughts on “Monument Envy

  1. philoctates@aol.com

    “…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love-they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” This is Harry Lime in The Third Man. What does it have to do with the subject ot totalitarian kitsch, read Steve Heller’s Iron Fists for an answer. I just enjoy a good show. Would I rather be Bill Clinton sitting with Kim Il Jong in front of a monstrosity or Francis Levy gawking at Corbet’s Creation of the World in the Met? One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t step foot into Pyongyang unless I was Bill Clinton, Marinetti or Ayn Rand.

  2. philoctates@aol.com

    “…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love-they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” This is Harry Lime in The Third Man. What does it have to do with the subject ot totalitarian kitsch, read Steve Heller’s Iron Fists for an answer. I just enjoy a good show. Would I rather be Bill Clinton sitting with Kim Il Jong in front of a monstrosity or Francis Levy gawking at Corbet’s Creation of the World in the Met? One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t step foot into Pyongyang unless I was Bill Clinton, Marinetti or Ayn Rand.

  3. philoctates@aol.com

    “…in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love-they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.” This is Harry Lime in The Third Man. What does it have to do with the subject ot totalitarian kitsch, read Steve Heller’s Iron Fists for an answer. I just enjoy a good show. Would I rather be Bill Clinton sitting with Kim Il Jong in front of a monstrosity or Francis Levy gawking at Corbet’s Creation of the World in the Met? One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t step foot into Pyongyang unless I was Bill Clinton, Marinetti or Ayn Rand.

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