Vivien Green Fryd, professor of history of art, has organized an international conference on American icons and monuments to be held January 25 at the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Freie Universität, Berlin. Fryd, the Terra Foundation Visiting Professor of American Art, will deliver the keynote address: “The Statue of Liberty: A Chameleon-Like Hollow Icon.”
This conference will address the icons and monuments in American visual and textual art and culture. Monuments are public, usually but not always, permanent visual structures—traditionally sculpture, architecture, or both, and sometimes painting—that are intended to symbolize something about a human deed or event or commemorate a great human being. In a broader sense, monuments function as one of the means civilization has devised to reinforce its cohesiveness and create a shared historical memory and national identity. Monuments are a way to transmit communal emotions, a medium of continuity and interaction between generations, not only in space, but also across time. Icons can be broadly defined as a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration. Sometimes a monument can become an icon; and an icon can be monumental but not necessarily a monument. Monuments and icons continue to develop in the modern and postmodern era, but now, as Erika Doss notes, they “deliberately contain irony, ambivalence, interruption, and self-criticality.”
This conference will explore why particular images, texts, and monuments in the U.S. have become renowned throughout the world. What do they say about national identity, historical memory, and/or political ideologies? How and why do different social groups contest certain monuments, icons, and texts? How and why do certain images of people, historical events, and/or national symbols become iconic? Does one national symbol, text, or icon mean different things over different times and in different locations of the world? If so, what contributes to this?