War in the Pacific Memorial: Who is the public in public art?

Brigid Sullivan Lopez


In 1995, a bronze bas-relief triptych memorializing the role of Guam in the Pacific Theatre of World War II was commissioned and installed at War in the Pacific National Historical Park at the Asan Bay Overlook in Guam.

The memorial’s sculptor, Eugene Daub, envisioned a warm golden brown patina for the bronze, but the liver of sulfur and ferric nitrate patina applied by the foundry was excessively dark, and the panels mounted on a white concrete wall were virtually unreadable in the intense bright light of the island. In response to complaints from the park and visitors, foundry employees reduced the dark patina of the panels by abrading raised areas with abrasive pads in 1996. Park staff completed this technique on all panels.

By the time of a planned presidential visit in 1998, the panels were disfigured with corrosion and had an unsightly blotchy appearance. As advised by the foundry, abrasive techniques were again used to “brighten up” the piece. This time, electric rotary wire brushes were used as well as abrasive polishes. Low relief areas were painted with dark shoe polish to provide further contrast resulting in a distinctly Asian black and gold decorative lacquer-like appearance, an aesthetic desirable to the native Chamorro population of Guam and throughout the Mariana Islands and adjacent islands of Japan.

According to the artist, both aesthetic presentations of the nearly black foundry patina and the park’s complete cultural reinterpretation are inappropriate. Moreover, both surface treatment approaches have contributed to material deterioration of the bronze, and the National Park Service must now develop a treatment plan based on remedial needs and maintenance sustainability. However, the history of this installation and its reception in Guam suggests philosophical issues of a larger context that may be applicable to memorial art in general. For example, what is the cultural purpose of memorialization? Should the needs and preferences of the public as memorial users be considered in memorial art? At what point does the artist’s intent trump other considerations in final presentation?

2002 | Miami | Volume 9