Kitschy koo Iwo Jima Memorial: Lawmakers making much ado over J. Carter Brown's art criticism.

March 14, 1998

BECAUSE J. Carter Brown once called the Iwo Jima Memorial in Arlington, Va., "kitsch," a couple of conservative Republican members of Congress are belatedly calling for his head.

Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon of New York and Sen. Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas want Mr. Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, to resign as chairman of the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts. The commission, incidentally, angered Marine Corps supporters -- including the two congressmen -- by approving an Air Force monument near the famed Iwo Jima statue, which portrays Joe Rosenthal's historic photograph of six Marines straining to plant the U.S. flag on Mount Suribachi during World War II.

The two lawmakers' charge is ludicrous. "Kitsch," which the dictionary defines as "pretentious bad taste," was Mr. Brown's expert opinion of the memorial's composition, not of the bloody battle in the Pacific that it honors.

While Mr. Brown might not have made his remark, found in a transcript from 1994, in a totally positive light -- he also called the monument "very effective" -- kitsch is hardly fightin' words. Here in Baltimore, which celebrates painted screens and elephant-sized plaster dogs, it's often a term of endearment. U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a former city councilwoman from Fells Point, could explain as much to her fellows on Capitol Hill, as could Mr. Brown's brother, Nicholas, who ran the National Aquarium at the Inner Harbor.

The controversy seems even more ridiculous gurgling from Washington's conservative wing, which is forever grousing that "political correctness" is chilling freedom of speech. Yet these congressmen are quick to try to punish Mr. Brown for 4-year-old remark that simply expresses his opinion of a work of art.

The worst part of this flap is the transparent pandering to veterans by the two lawmakers. Their whining is about as far away as one can get on the courage spectrum from the Marines who took Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi.

Pub Date: 3/14/98

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