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United States


Modern Beauty- For Stina

alec vanderboom

United States Air Force Memorial, Washington D.C.

View from inside United States Air Force Memorial
Photo Credit: Constructor

Jimmy Akin, has a recent post entitled "But Is It Art?" which gives modern, abstract art only begrudging respect next to more classic "masterpieces" such as paintings by Caravaggio. As an attempt to win more converts to abstraction, I’m treating you to a gentle art history lesson. As a special thank you for her support, I chose a Washington D. C sculpture that should become close to Stina’s heart.

Designed by James Ingo Freed (architect), the Air Force Memorial Sculpture is comprised of three stainless steel spires that curve upwards on a bluff above the Pentagon. The sculpture is “abstract.” Rather than recreate a realistic copy of an airplane, the memorial seeks to give a general feeling of “flight” or the “flying spirit of the Air Force.” The shape of the spires is modeled on the smoke flares from the tails of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Demonstration Planes as it performs its famous bomb burst maneuver.

The sculpture is “different.” It takes some “getting used to.” But here's why I’m glad the architect didn’t choose to commission a giant bomber plane in the realistic style of Caravaggio.

A mere sculpture of a plane, while technically impressive, could never fully communicate the wonder of flight. Airplanes are not wonderful because they have a lot of flaps and tail wings. Airplanes become poetry in motion only when they fly. Man’s ability to soar with the birds is one of the wonders of the last century. Yet how can the artist take a still statue and convey “movement?” The Navy has the sea & the Army the land. Yet how can you show the “air” for the Air Force?

The answer that Freed devised was to take one striking image, the smoke plume from the Thunderbirds, blow it up to an enormous size, and place it in a strategic location. Gazing at Freed’s design gives the viewer the same “ah” factor that would come if we were spectators of actual Air Force Pilots. We admire the precision and the agility of the pilot’s flight. The three spires also represent teamwork, unity, and brotherhood. The placement of the sculpture over the Pentagon is vitally important. This is the one building in Washington D.C. wounded by the 9/11 attackers. Gazing at the Air Force Memorial, I’m reminded of why I’m personally so grateful to Stina’s husband and his comrades. The Air Force grants us “protection.”

Modern Art sometimes demands that we viewers take a little more “context” to our viewings. Knowing more about the intent of the artist will enhance your enjoyment. Or maybe all that is necessary is that we give up the idea of what art “is supposed to look like” and impart a little more child-like innocence into our artistic gaze.

The Air Force Memorial is currently my three-year old son’s favorite landmark in D.C. We pass it regularly on Route 365 on our way to weekly Rosary Group and visits to Great-Grandfather. Next time we see this sculpture, in addition to admiring it’s beauty, we’ll be adding our prayer for Stina’s husband all of the brave members of our armed services.

Prayer: Merciful God, thank you for the brave men and women who protect our country. May their guardian angels protect them from harm.