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Anne Azzi Davenport
Anne Azzi Davenport
President Biden's inauguration featured unusual imagery in response to some unusual circumstances. The temporary public art is intended to represent the American people and to unify the country. Jeffrey Brown reports as part of our arts and culture series, "CANVAS.”
As we have seen, today's inauguration featured unusual imagery, a response to the unusual circumstances.
The temporary public art is intended to represent the American people and to unify the country.
Jeffrey Brown has our look.
It's part of our arts and culture series, Canvas.
In the sky above Washington, pillars of light, 56 in all, symbolizing the 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories.
On the ground, a field of flags, nearly 200,000 of them, representing the millions of people unable to attend due to pandemic and ramped-up security measures, an inauguration without precedent, imagery to match.
This is something that is meant to be evocative for everybody.
Adam Baron, deputy director of events for the Presidential Inaugural Committee, helped create and oversee the installations, American flags of all sizes, flags of the states and territories.
Baron says the idea grew from looking at past inauguration scenes.
When you look down the Mall, it's not just the people that you see. There are just these thousands of waving American flags that represent people from all stripes coming together to celebrate a new administration.
So, we sort of took that image, and we wanted to have those waving flags represent people that could not safely or smartly come together and gather this year.
So, the imagery is really from inaugurations past, but without the people, in a sense.
We knew we had to do something that was still celebratory to commemorate the importance of the moment, but that was smart and thoughtful of the health and safety of everybody involved.
Of course, the intended audience was, as with so much now remote, public art on public space now closed to the public, and not just any space, but the National Mall, home to enduring symbols of American democratic values.
Philip Kennicott is a Pulitzer Prize-winning critic for The Washington Post.
In Washington, we're just two weeks out from having seen a violent mob storm the Capitol. What we see here is, in a sense, a kind of fantasy of the crowd, as orderly, as collective, as gathering in proximity, but in a constructive way.
Constructive, yet different for this very different moment.
Kennicott points to the evocative shafts of lights that once illuminated the absent World Trade Center Twin Towers after 9/11, or the rows of orderly flags familiar at cemeteries or battlefields. Those evoke sorrow. These images, he thinks, might offer something more hopeful.
By using the National Mall in this way, they're inviting us not just to sort of be spectators, but to kind of project ourselves into that crowd and feel as somehow we're more than just passive participants in this.
You're saying we, as citizens, need to find a new way to connect to public spaces, to public events, to politics itself. What role does the art play?
In some ways, that's an effort to get us to go beyond the fairly passive and reactive role that we have taken up with democracy through things like social media, through television, and actually get out there and do something, be physically present.
We can't do that at the moment. But this is making us, in a way, yearn to be in that space a little more tangibly than we might if we just watched it on television, as we used to do.
That asks a lot of what is, after all, a temporary art installation.
But we're a country in need of a lot just now.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown.
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In his more than 30-year career with the NewsHour, Brown has served as co-anchor, studio moderator, and field reporter on a wide range of national and international issues, with work taking him around the country and to many parts of the globe. As arts correspondent he has profiled many of the world's leading writers, musicians, actors and other artists. Among his signature works at the NewsHour: a multi-year series, “Culture at Risk,” about threatened cultural heritage in the United States and abroad; the creation of the NewsHour’s online “Art Beat”; and hosting the monthly book club, “Now Read This,” a collaboration with The New York Times.
Anne Azzi Davenport is the Senior Coordinating Producer of CANVAS at PBS NewsHour.
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