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New art misses the mark


WASHINGTON -- Four pieces of art by leading American artists were commissioned for the Holocaust Memorial Museum. The artists -- Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra and Joel Shapiro -- have produced good art, working in their usual styles but with the site and its meaning in mind. It's not their fault the art itself seems extraneous to the museum, and, if anything, it works against the effect of the rest.

Shapiro's "Loss and Regeneration," the one outdoor piece, is a two-part bronze sculpture consisting of a 25-foot-high, semi-abstract, human-like figure near the 15th Street entrance, and a smaller, 9-foot-high house, turned upside down and embedded in the plaza farther from the building. The symbolism of these parts -- the figure both falling and struggling to get up stands for despair and hope, the house for security overturned -- is appropriate to the museum. But in the context of the building and its exhibit this kind of symbolism seems unnecessary.

Kelly's "Memorial" and LeWitt's "Consequence" are installed at pauses in the permanent exhibit, where you emerge from one floor and proceed to the next. Kelly's work consists of one fan-like and three tablet-like shapes of wood and fiberglass, all white and installed in a white room. This does provoke a certain sense of contemplation, but both this and LeWitt's squares of deep color painted on the wall the next flight down go so against the grain of what one is experiencing.

Serra's 12-foot square of steel, called "Gravity" and embedded at the bottom of the stairs in the Hall of Witness, is supposed to "destabilize the space" and engender "a sense of disquietude," according to a museum statement. But it doesn't; there's already too much disquietude going on for it to have much effect.

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