DICK JOHNSON ON ROBERT GRAHAM'S DESIGNS
Dick Johnson submitted these thoughts on Robert Graham's designs. -Editor
Sculptor Robert Graham, who died two days after Christmas, had a penchant for placing human figures on pedestals, and more often, torsos on poles. However, the Art Committee selecting an artist for the monument at the Los Angeles Olympic Stadium, knew this in advance. It was inevitable this is what Graham would create for the 1984 Olympic Games venue, to become a symbol of the Los Angeles Olympics that ultimately appeared on a U.S. commemorative dollar struck by the U.S. Mint.
The monument, called Gateway to the Olympic Stadium, was widely criticized at the time. It was said to be an atrocious monument displaying beheaded nude athletes, male and female, standing in a bucket of cement, on a giant slab supported by two pillars. It was more appropriate for disposal at sea rather than the entranceway for athletic achievement.
When this Gateway monument was chosen by the Treasury Department as the device for the dollar commemorative that year it submitted the design to the Commission of Fine Arts as required. The Commission members rejected the design calling it "a loser" but the Treasury, in its infinite wisdom, issued it anyway.
Walter Breen, in describing this coin in his Complete Encyclopedia of U.S. and Colonial Coins, said the two headless figures were "'all brawn, no brains' unintentionally symbolizing the Orwellian motto 'Ignorance is strength.' Between them, the flame's configuration suggests that someone is making a rude gesture with a middle finger."
But that is not the last of it. For that same year Krause Publications awarded this coin a COTY -- Coin of the Year -- as the most popular coin. Evidence both of widespread lack of artistic acumen in the U.S. Treasury and the numismatic field. Bad Art Endures.
Incidentally in the index of names in Breen's Encyclopedia, following Graham's name is a cryptic "297b."
It didn't guide the reader to the entry of this coin (on page 606) and there is nothing about Graham on page 297. It was rumored Breen used this as a code word as a parting insult hurled at the artist. We mentioned this in E-Sylum (vol 3, no 8, art 7 as early as February 20, 2000). We asked if anyone could break the code. George Kolbe and Wayne Homren commented, but no one yet has broken the code for Breen's single arrow aimed at Graham.
To read the earlier E-Sylum article on Graham, see: SCULPTOR ROBERT GRAHAM 1938-2008 (http://www.coinbooks.org/esylum_v11n52a06.html)
Wayne Homren, Editor
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