At a meeting of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts, the chairman referred to the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial as "kitsch" but admitted it's "very effective" as art.
The comment drew demands from a congressman that J. Carter Brown resign from the commission.Brown's reference appears in a transcript being circulated by Friends of Iwo Jima, a group lobbying Congress to reverse approval of an Air Force monument just 600 feet from the Marine memorial on an Arlington, Va., hillside.
The group, along with Rep. Gerald Solomon, R-N.Y., a former Marine, is also battling in court to block construction of the Air Force structure on the Arlington grounds just across the Potomac River from Washington.
Solomon called Brown's description a "slap in the face" and said Brown should step down.
"That is just an atrocious statement to make," Solomon said Saturday from New York. "Carter Brown has a tendency to look down his nose at people, especially the Marine Corps.. . . I think this man ought to step down."
Webster's New World Dictionary defines "kitsch" as art "of a pretentious but shallow kind, calculated to have popular appeal."
The transcript has Brown saying, "I would say that the Iwo Jima memorial is kitsch. It was taken from a photograph, it is by a sculptor, even though he was a member of this commission at one point, who is not going to go down as a Michelangelo in history - and yet it is very effective, largely because of its site."
Solomon said Brown's disparaging comment draws into question the Fine Arts Commission decision during a 1994 meeting to approve the site for the Air Force monument. The National Capital Planning Commission, which must also sign off on projects on federal land, initially rejected the proposal but later reversed its decision.
"There has been hanky-panky involved here," Solomon said. "I think it just again points to (Brown's) total disregard for the Iwo Jima monument."
Felix de Weldon sculpted the bronze monument, based on Joe Rosenthal's Associated Press photograph of Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima on Feb. 23, 1945. The photo won a Pulitzer Prize and is considered one of history's most-published photographs.
Brown, former director of the National Gallery of Art, was reported traveling in Europe and unavailable for comment.
Charles Atherton, Fine Arts Commission staff director, said he cringed when he heard Brown say "kitsch."