'Other Memorial' honors Vietnamese

June 26, 1992|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Topanga artist Chris Burden remembers being struck by "how one-sided" the Vietnam Memorial was when he happened to see a half-scale replica in Plexiglas in 1985.

Not only were 57,939 war victims listed only on one side of the Washington monument, the names represented only American losses -- not Vietnamese ones.

"I thought there's an image here that we are grieving only for one side," he recently recalled. "I remember thinking it was disturbing."

Thus was born the inspiration for "The Other Vietnam Memorial," which turned heads last fall when it was unveiled in an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

On the first occasion that the critically acclaimed work has been displayed since that exhibit, "The Other Vietnam Memorial" goes on view tomorrow at the Lannan Foundation in Westchester, Calif.

Resembling a giant Rolodex tipped on its side, the sculpture lists names representing the estimated 3 million Vietnamese killed during the war. Viewers can page through the names in the manner of Rolodex cards.

The Vietnamese names are etched in copper panels that glisten warmly in the gallery's light. The panels are suspended from an imposing cast-aluminum frame.

Mr. Burden originally conceived of "The Other Vietnam Memorial" as a book "sort of like Moses' tablets,"with its spine attached to a gallery wall. But when mounting such a book turned out to be problematic, fabricators behind the piece suggested the Rolodex form.

Because Vietnamese records are not as complete as those of the Pentagon, Mr. Burden was not able to lay his hands on the actual names of Vietnamese casualties.

He considered representing the Vietnamese dead with such staple iconography as crosses but abandoned the idea because it "didn't seem right."

"I wanted to bring across the point that these were really Vietnamese" who died, he said. "It's too easy to abstract them."

Eventually, he derived 3 million possible Vietnamese names by feeding 4,000 actual Vietnamese names through a computer.

The concept so impressed the Lannan Foundation that it bought the piece even before Mr. Burden had completed it for its debut last summer in "Dislocations" at MOMA in New York.

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