The memorial is a linchpin in the study of art history and architecture. For every battle or miracle, martyr or hero, tragedy or victory, a commemorative monument of some kind exists to mark the event or principle.
Merely taking account of one kind of memorial—the obelisk—allowed Glenn Weiss of Aesthetic Grounds to come up with almost a dozen examples of such monoliths off the top of his head, and those comprised only a small percentage of the ones out there in the wide world. Think of your last trip to Rome. There’s an obelisk in every piazza of city. It is no wonder even locals get lost with such a multitude of similar landmarks.
In contrast, some of the paintings and sculptures pegged to 9/11 have been surprisingly varied in form, subject, and treatment. As a rule, I find this theme somewhat macabre and murky in and of itself. But in spite of that I kept loose tabs on what was being shown (Aesthetic Grounds is a good place to start if you are interested in finding what kind of 9/11 artwork is out there) and found a couple of works that might have enough substance to truly reckon with the facets of this tragedy.
Eric Fischl’s Tumbling Woman is one that sunk its teeth into my psyche. Robert Gober’s installation at Matthew Marks in Chelsea was both anguished and disturbing.
Memorializing is arguable one of the strongest of human impulses. But the commonality of this impulse sometimes leads to art that is formulaic rather than expressive. Memorial as art should be held to the same rigors and high expectations as any other work. Those events and individuals we remember demand it.