The Embrace Does Not Convey Greatness

The Embrace, a new sculpture dedicated to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King, has turned out to be contentious rather than unifying.

“The Embrace.” Hank Willis Thomas. Bronze. 2023. Photo: Twitter / @KyleH4real

Black conceptual artist Hank Willis Thomas won the commission to create the monument now displayed in the Boston Common of Massachusetts. What Thomas came up with is a headless bronze structure—a jumble of hands, arms, and shoulders meant to represent the historic couple. The fabrication measuring 20 feet long by 26 feet wide, depicts only the hands, arms, and shoulders of the civil rights activists. In the mind of this artist… The Embrace does not convey greatness.

The Embrace was dedicated and unveiled on Jan. 13, 2023, just before Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 16, 2023. It sits in the Boston Common near the Parkman Bandstand. In fact it is located on the exact location where King gathered 20,000 people in 1965 to protest against segregation in public schools; the very first such demonstration in the Northeast.

On the morning of Jan. 14, 2023, my wife showed me a short video of the unveiling of The Embrace (shown below). I watched the plastic tarp drop to the ground to reveal something I couldn’t identify. My first response was to blurt out, “what IS that?”

The angle of the video presented a baffling jumble of hands grasping at… a lump, a blob, I didn’t know. Then a different angle offered an even more unfortunate view; apparently I wasn’t the only one to see it. Social media lit up with incredulous remarks that The Embrace looked like—and I’m embarrassed to say this, two giant hands holding up an immense flaccid phallus… either that or a prodigious turd. Surely this was an embarrassing blunder made by the artist, it couldn’t possibly have been intentional. Yet there it is, the perfect example of the bewilderment, confusion, and lack of coherency in today’s postmodern art.

“The Embrace.” Hank Willis Thomas. Bronze. 2023. The statue being installed. Photo: Twitter

Postmodern art is not a civilizing force, it is nihilistic and its mission has always been to remove the idea of beauty from art. The virus began in 1917 when Marcel Duchamp signed a porcelain urinal with the nom de plume “R. Mutt,” then displayed the toilet he titled Fountain in an exhibit hosted by the Society of Independent Artists. Beauty isn’t the only thing that has been stripped from art. We’ve reached the point where we can’t even produce a statue of a true American hero; the attempt only gets us a bizarre and ugly decapitated creature seemingly designed by a special effects studio for a schlocky sci-fi flick.

My criticism of Thomas’ The Embrace is in part based upon my respect for Martin Luther King Jr. To be honest, Martin deserves so much more. As a pre-teen I followed his activities closely. I was nine-years-old when I watched television news reports of Martin and 200,000 followers marching on Washington D.C. for jobs and freedom; it was there that he gave his most famous oratory… “I Have a Dream.” Martin was my entry point into the American Civil Rights Movement.

When I was thirteen-years-old in 1967, Martin began to speak out against the Vietnam war: “The bombs in Vietnam explode at home—they destroy the dream and possibility for a decent America.” My generation listened, and we followed his vision that we could stop the war. I remind the reader that Martin’s words concerning the Vietnam war are still relevant, or haven’t you noticed that we are in a proxy war with nuclear armed Russia over Ukraine?

“The Embrace” was supposedly inspired by this photo of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. hugging his wife Coretta Scott King on Oct. 14, 1964, the day Martin won the Nobel Peace Prize.

It supposedly took five years to make The Embrace, a 20-ton bronze constructed of 609 individual pieces, all cast at the Walla Walla Foundry in the state of Washington.

Thomas worked with MASS Design Group and Embrace Boston, non-profits in Boston with politically correct mission statements, to design the 1965 Freedom Plaza where Embrace is publicly displayed. Unbelievably, the “BIPOC Centric” Embrace Boston raised $8 million to produce the work and raised an extra $2.5 mil to preserve it.

Even more inconceivable is the idea that The Embrace project had to be approved by multiple state agencies before it could be realized. The Mayor’s Office of Arts and Culture, the Boston Arts Commission, Boston Parks and Recreation Department—all the people involved in the project did not see in The Embrace what millions immediately saw when it was unveiled.

It’s beyond belief that city officials of Boston are hoping Embrace will be a tourist attraction comparable to the Statue of Liberty. Squad member and Democrat Congresswoman of Massachusetts Ayanna Pressley, who was at the unveiling, told those assembled that people from around the world will visit The Embrace to pay tribute to the Kings. She’s positively delusional.

On the MASS Design Group website, the organization poses a self-righteous and hypocritical question: “How can we fill the voids left in America’s public spaces, once we have removed the memorials that divide us? How can we demand more memorials that unite us around our common humanity, love, and empathy?”

Starting in 2020 leftwing mobs graffitied or tore down bronze statues of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Ulysses S. Grant, Francis Scott Key, Andrew Jackson, Frederick Douglass and other notable Americans. Are these the “memorials that divide us” that MASS Design alludes to? Who exactly wanted the statues damaged, destroyed, “removed”?

“Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment.” Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Bronze sculpture on Boston Common. Photo: Mark Vallen.

I visited the Boston Common in 2019. I was stunned by the Memorial to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts Fifty-Fourth Regiment, a masterwork bronze sculpture by the artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Created in 1897 the sculpture commemorates the men of the Fifty-Fourth Regiment, a Union Army military unit of free black men who fought in the Civil War under the command of a white officer named, Robert Gould Shaw.

The 54th fought a hand-to-hand battle with the Confederates at Fort Wagner on July 18, 1863. Captain Shaw was killed and 280 of his men were killed, wounded, or captured; the battle was lost but the courageous 54th joined the immortals. Saint-Gaudens gave them a proper memorial. It should be noted that on June 3, 2020, Black Lives Matter protestors covered with graffiti the granite base that holds the statue; they spray-painted the slogans “ACAB” (All Cops Are Bastards), “F**k 12” (F**k Police) and “BLM.”

Pre-Renaissance European artists created the school of classical realist sculpture—and Hank Willis Thomas, despite his postmodern Afrocentric vision, has not entirely abandoned that school. Over the years realist sculptors have created innumerable sculptures on the subject of people embracing. Women embracing their newborn babies, or mournfully embracing their dead warriors. Men embracing in solidarity and friendship, etc. These moving artworks express compassion, dignity, and a deep humanism; precisely what’s missing in the strange and freakish Embrace.

“The Embrace.” Hank Willis Thomas. Bronze. 2023. Photo: Twitter / @chipgoines

It should have been foreseen that the postmodern structure conjured up by Thomas would be met with ridicule; that’s the tragedy of The Embrace and postmodernism—the monument should have been magnificent, but instead it invites mockery. It reminds me of two other recent public art debacles. The postmodern architect Thomas Heatherwick designed a sixteen-story walk-through sculpture he called Vessel. Located at the center of swanky Hudson Yards in Manhattan, NYC, it opened in March of 2019. The $200 million edifice was touted by politicians and contemporary art aficionados… until people started to commit suicide by flinging themselves from the 150-foot-high building. The city closed Vessel to the public.

I’m also thinking of the Black postmodernist Sanford Biggers, who in 2021 was asked to create and display one of his statues at the Fifth Avenue entrance to Rockefeller Center, NYC. Consumed by identity politics, Biggers created Oracle, a massively preposterous 25-foot tall bronze statue that fused a gigantic African mask to a Greco-Roman female goddess. Biggers meant the statue as a serious critique of the “racist” architectural artworks that embellish Rockefeller Center, but Oracle was simply ridiculous.

To add insult to injury, social media is burning with sarcastic memes and scoffing comments regarding The Embrace, a few witticism from the Twitterati I include here.

“How long did it take Hunter (Biden) to complete this?

This is a laughable legacy to a wonderful man.

Is it really that hard to get a decent MLK statue?

He deserves way better than this atrocity.

What an insult to the man and the moment.

King had a dream. Boston Common has a nightmare.”

… and my favorite observation: “The West is no longer capable of creating anything beautiful.” Many see Thomas’ The Embrace as a work of genius, obviously I’m not one of them, but the art press certainly plays along. On Aug. 11, 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered an address in Chicago, Illinois where he said: “We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity.”

The same could be said about artists.

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UPDATE:

Jan. 14, 2023: Seneca Scott, cousin of Coretta Scott King, wrote an essay for the social-democratic website COMPACT. He wrote: “Ten million dollars were wasted to create a masturbatory metal homage to my legendary family members—one of the all-time greatest American families.” Jan. 15, 2023: The New York Post prints banner headline Woke $10M MLK ‘penis’ statue insults black community: Coretta Scott King kin. The NYPost quotes Seneca Scott: “The mainstream media was reporting on it like it was all beautiful, ’cause they were told they had to say that. If you had showed that statute to anyone in the ‘hood, they’d have been like, ‘No, absolutely not.'”

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