Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Continents at U.S. Customs House: OMOM Essay 4

"About the Sculpture" investigates the symbolism of Asia, Africa, Europe and America and how the figures play off against each other. The "aha!" moment for this essay in Outdoor Monuments of Manhattan was when I realized that the figures need not be taken as racist comments about the behavior of people on different continents. They could be understood as representing states of mind and characteristic behavior of different types of people.

I spent quite some time puzzling over what the man next to America is pushing - see the image at upper left. Google is great for text searches, but not very useful for identifying symbols if you don’t know the symbol’s name. A search for "wheel wings symbol" brought me to a tattoo site explaining the meaning of the winged wheel as a biker symbol and another explicating the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s “The Wheel.” Finally (in print), I found a scholar who referred to the winged wheel as the “wheel of progress,” which makes sense visually - it look as if it’s going somewhere fast.

"About the Subject" explains why the U.S. Customs building in New York was so important that its facade rated four major works by one of America's most important sculptors. Hint: Alexander Hamilton's ultimately responsible.

Below, details from the other Continents: Asia's footstool of human skulls, Europe's companion studying a laurel-wreathed skull, and Africa's companion leaning on a sphinx.

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