Remember Bob Dylan's song from the '60s - “The Times they are a-changin'? His was the voice of a generation past, but the song could have been written this morning. Clearly, nothing stays the same, including our response to once celebrated artworks.

Out of sight, out of mind

Just ask the Arts Commissioners of San Francisco who voted unanimously last week to remove a bronze statue near City Hall titled “Early Days.” The sculpture was installed in 1894 to celebrate California history, but as times changed, the work proved an embarrassing reminder of our shameful treatment of the American Indian.

In all likelihood, the statue was meant to pay homage to America's first settlers. By the look of it, though, two white men looming menacingly over a fallen Native American, this monument to our commencement can easily be seen as a salute to the white supremacist. The city had been logging complaints about the sculpture in recent years; but its decision to act was goosed when Charlottesville, Virginia removed the monument to Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general who led a war perpetuating slavery,

By way of explanation

A public statement from the city agency made certain that people knew exactly why the work was removed: “The Commissioners agreed that this racist and disrespectful sculpture has no place in the heart of our city.” But wait, there's more.

The city also intends to install a plaque in place of the missing statue explaining why it's missing. And it's that intention that prompts today's column. Instead of removing all the old statuary that offends us now, why not affix a plaque stating why we're offended?

Telling the truth

Do I hear a 'what-good-would-that-do' from out there in reader-land? Isn't it better, you may ask, to just get rid of statuary that causes us shame?

Who's fooling who? Uninstalling art from our sorry past is a way of re-writing history. Instead of denying reality and making believe our ugly yesterdays never happened, why not demonstrate the evolution of our thinking? The giant statue of Marilyn Monroe displayed in the streets of several U.S. cities comes to mind. Titled “Forever Marilyn,” it captures a memorable moment in the 1955 film “The Seven Year Itch” when the actress stood on a subway grate and a gust of wind caused by a passing train below blew her dress up revealing her panties.

Correcting the record

A titillating moment in the '50s, the statue, designed by Seward Johnson, is larger than life, which means that passersby find themselves inadvertently looking up a woman's dress. Fun in the fifties (the movie was a comedy), offensive today. But rather than eliminating “Forever Marilyn” from view (I'd like to set fire to it), a plaque would acknowledge the sexism of the '50s as a fact of life back then and allow us to say what we think of it today.

That way, we don't close our eyes to history, we make our own.

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