Reading Together 2013 Blog

Visual Shock

Among the themes of this year’s Reading Together selection is the issue of public art and how communities respond to it. I recently came across this book in our collection and found it to be an interesting parallel. Kammen, a Pulitzer Prize winner for history,addresses the issue of public art from several angles, among them: Monuments, Memorials, and Americanism; Issues of Diversity and Inclusion; and The Dimensions and Dilemmas of Public Sculpture. In fact, one of the works chronicled in this latter chapter is Alexander Calder’s La Grande Vitesse in Grand Rapids, erected in 1969. Kammen describes how the Grand Rapids community went from questioning the size and cost of the sculpture, as well as the artist’s nonexistent relationship with Michigan or even the midwest, to ultimately embracing the work. “Today the piece is truly beloved and has become the stimulus for everything from festivals to children’s design contests. Controversy gave way to an era of good feelings, as least in this instance.”

The book includes several photographs and detailed notes, as well as a comprehensive index.


Visual Shock: A History of Art Controversies in American Culture



Karen S


I can vouch that anyone whose interest in monuments, memory, and history has been piqued by reading Waldman's work would do well to take a look at Visual Shock. Kammen is one of those rare historians that deftly bridges the gap between academic and public history and does so in a manner that has is not only approachable, but enjoyable.