Leo O’Donovan, S.J., on Jane Hammond’s ‘Fallen’

by Tim Reidy

Thanks to Fr. Leo O’Donovan, a frequent contributor to America, for sending along this review of a moving and timely piece of art work:

In this season of remembrance, the FLAG Art Foundation in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood has become a place of pilgrimage. Here the New York-based artist Jane Hammond has installed her tribute to the American men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq, a work more moving than ever now that President Obama has determined to bring the last troops home by the end of the year. Called simply “Fallen,” the piece seems at first a seductively nostalgic bed of fall leaves placed on a low-lying bed measuring 15 by 5 feet. (The dimensions have varied, depending on the gallery space in the other cities where it has been shown: St. Louis; Columbus, Ohio; San Diego, and Roanoke, Virginia.) Looking down on the fragile potpourri of color, one gradually realizes that each leaf bears the name of someone lost in the war. The names, fully spelled out, as at birth and death, are Anglo and Hispanic, Native American and Asian, mournfully more various the longer one looks. There are now 4,455 leaves, each one unique, as were the—mostly young—people they represent. Real leaves were gathered and photographed, digitally scanned, printed on archival paper, then cut out by hand. The paper stems were thickened and fortified with fiberglass and matt medium, and the whole leaf then painted by hand in various colors. After being signed in ink, the leaves were subsequently molded. The artist must add, alas, more leaves to the memorial. And there is of course the horrible question of how many Iraqi lives were lost. But for now and until Dec. 15, anyone wishing to remember and pray for our own “departed dead” may stand, or kneel, before this altar of sacrifice. And the Whitney Museum of American Art, which owns Ms. Hammond’s piece, is considering extending its exhibition until Dec. 31.