Artist Creates Giant Face on Washington, DC’s National Mall

Earth art by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada lands alongside the Lincoln Memorial.

Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, Out of Many, One (2014).Photo: Smithsonian/Instagram.
Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada, Out of Many, One (2014).
Photo: Smithsonian/Instagram.

The latest addition to the National Mall in Washington, DC, is not the Frank Gehry-designed Eisenhower Memorial, still mired in design delays after 15 years, but a large-scale portrait-cum-landscaping project from Cuban-American artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, reports the Washington Post.

Next to the iconic Reflecting Pool, west of the National World War II Memorial, a six acre lawn is being taken over by an enormous face. Workers were constructing the two-toned image last week, drawing with 800 tons of dark potting soil against a lighter background of 2,000 tons of sand to create Out of Many, One, a commission from the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The work’s title serves not only as a reference to the Latin motto found on American currency (“E Pluribus Unum”), but as a clue to the nature of the piece. The gigantic portrait, impossible to discern from the ground level, where the gradations in color appear to be completely abstract, is an impressive sight from above, showing a handsome young man of ambiguous ethnicity, depicted in three-quarter profile.

Rodríguez-Gerada crafted the image from dozens of portraits he took on the streets of DC, blending 50 faces of white and African American men between ages 18 and 24 into one beautiful composite that calls to mind our country’s reputation as an international “melting pot.”

The Harsh Realities For Minorities

“Diversity is the backbone of the nation, and this piece embraces that fact,” the artist told the Smithsonian. “I decided to create the face of a young adult male because I want to talk about the reality of this demographic group in the US. Nothing affects us more than the arbitrary nature of identity. We are judged immediately by preconceptions about how we look and where we come from. For minorities, the reality is still harsh.”

The artist employed precise GPS technology from California’s Topcon Positioning Systems, Inc. to map the giant drawing onto the lawn, creating a template for workers by stringing together 15,000 pegs. (Such high-tech assistance makes ancient earth art like the Nazca lines—see “Pilot Spots Ancient Peruvian Geoglyphs” and “Ancient Land Art Discovered Using Google Earth“—all the more impressive.) The piece is designed so as to avoid any negative environmental impact—come spring, the National Park Service will install soccer fields on the site.

Rodríguez-Gerada, who created a similar piece in Belfast last year, isn’t concerned about the ephemeral nature of the work. “The importance of the piece is the whole process of creation, destruction and memory,” he explained. “It’s about reflection. Finding the protagonists, how the city comes together to create the work, the narrative, the memory. The piece is all those things combined.”

The project was officially unveiled this morning and will be on view through the month of October. To get lost in the man’s piercing gaze, look to the sky: the best views are from the top of the Washington Monument, or from the window seat in planes leaving or arriving at Reagan National Airport.

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