They face each other as fellow warriors from different, imaginary wars—or all wars. But one stands with arms akimbo, unarmed, a glittering but empty shell (made of dog tags, as closer inspection reveals). The other stands, if you can call it that, as a beaten, broken, but undaunted warrior, his shield raised to receive yet another blow. They’re juxtaposed in the recently opened Sacred exhibition, which has gathered objects from across the MIA into 10 galleries under various themes. In this case, the theme is the sacrifice of war: Does fighting for honorable causes make the killing of soldiers any less profane?
The sculptures are Do-Ho Suh’s Some/One and Henry Moore’s Warrior with Shield, and recently a tour guide leading children through the exhibition was moved to write about her encounter with their juxtaposition. She’s St. Paul poet and teacher Norita Dittberner-Jax, once nominated for a Minnesota Book Award for her poetry collection, What They Always Were. Here’s an excerpt from her essay:
The inspiration for Some/One originated in a dream. Do-Ho Suh, an immigrant from South Korea and the son of a well-known painter, dreamed that he was approaching a stadium at night with a single figure in the middle. He heard clinking and clicking, “like crickets,” he says, of metal pieces that he saw were dog tags. The figure tries to move, but can’t because he’s weighed down with dog tags. In Some/One, he powerfully transforms the impact of the dream and the vividness of the image.
Henry Moore’s idea for Warrior with Shield came from a particular pebble he found on the seashore in 1952. It reminded him of the stump of a log. Moore would have seen many wounded and maimed, having witnessed and survived the aerial bombardment of Britain during World War II. He remembered Leonardo writing that a painter can find a battle scene in the lichen marks on a wall. He saw the stump of a warrior’s leg in a pebble on the beach. Moore’s warrior is individual, engaged, actively resisting the onslaught.
Two pieces of sculpture, in tension, in heated conversation. Do-Ho Suh’s warrior is anonymous, corporate, part of a dehumanized war machine. With the interior of the robe’s mirrored surface, the viewer is asked to confront the dilemma of the individual versus the institution, the public versus the private. Are the outstretched arms inviting an embrace, or is this warrior a sacrificial figure? The probing insight of these artists and the presentation of their work in Gallery 263 should haunt us. It does for this viewer.