06 July 2008

The Wake's Progress


You may recall: I wrote a rather scathing assessment of the new National Harbor complex recently (evidence here). There was really nothing "wrong" with the place; my skin naturally crawls with paranoid terror when faced with glitzy "place-making" developments like that.

Instant city-center: poof! Now be happy and go shopping...

It's a matter of taste. To me, the place stank of artificial life; of manufactured opulence and cufflinks and hair-plugs and expense accounts. Classless and gaudy and overdone, like a child's sci-fi exaggerated vision of corporate success. Perhaps I've read too many J.G. Ballard novels (Super-Cannes for instance).

Then, Mr. T posted a comment which reminded me that The Awakening had been moved out to the new Harbor complex. Aahh, I must have missed it when I was out there looking at the conference halls.

For the unaware: The Awakening is a sculpture of a bearded man, some 100 feet in length, partially embedded in the earth as if he's crawling up from a premature burial; a foot, a leg, pair of arms, and a tremendous head with nostrils flaring and mouth gaping in what could be a yawn. Or a scream. It was originally installed at the end of Hains Point in Washington DC's East Potomac Park, and was to be a temporary fixture there.

My mother took me to see it in 1980 when it was brand new (uh, that would make me.... twelve years old at the time). And it was awesome. The vision of that sculpture stayed with me throughout my years of living in New York, Arizona, and Maine, and when I finally returned to DC, it was one of my top five places to re-visit.

And it seems many folks my age had a similar relationship with that silver psychotic dude in the ground. He was like a pagan deity; raw and intense and he ignited a child's imagination simply by being there.


After reading Mr. T's comment, I had to return to the National Harbor and this time, go directly to the harbor itself. Avoid all that conference-hall insanity at the Gaylord and visit the Old Silver Man in his new digs on the wrong side of the Potomac. And being the sentimental fool I am, I didn't approve of what I saw.

Of course the Hains Point site was temporary, but we were rather used to seeing him where he was. He was mighty like a grandfather oak tree, a witness to the creation of the world. Seeing him plopped in the middle of this wretched Disneyland of corporate hotels and cafes was like a violation of nature. For those of us who grew up around here in the '70s and '80s, The Awakening was almost a rite of passage; EVERY 12 year-old boy had to go crawling around the dude's mouth.


Look at him. He's clearly unhappy about it and just wants to get back to sleep. I'm turning forty in a few weeks, which gives me the right (nay, the imperative!) to be a sentimental dweeb about these things. And dweeb I shall.

6 comments:

D.C. Confidential said...

I was disappointed when I learned the Awakening had been sold and would be moved and seeing your photos of the Old Man's new venue makes me sad. This setting looks barren and harsh. At least at Haines Point he was buried in wood chips and surrounded by grass. This looks totally unapproachable.

It's too bad the artist and the National Park Service and the National Capital Planning Commission and D.C. citizens didn't speak up and demand the Awakening remain where it was. This is a shame.

Reya Mellicker said...

I have never been a fan of that sculpture, so from my point of view, it belongs in a place of

... manufactured opulence and cufflinks and hair-plugs and expense accounts. Classless and gaudy and overdone, like a child's sci-fi exaggerated vision of corporate success.

Well said, you!

Steve said...

I'm surprised I don't remember that sculpture, actually, having been a frequent visitor to DC in the late '70s and early '80s. But maybe it was just too cool for my family's taste; in any case, we never went to see it. :)

Tim said...

I had climbed in the dirty, mulch-filled mouth several times as a boy as well.

And more recently I made bike trips with the Awakening as my mid-way stop, stare and laugh point. I think it rather fit in on Hains Point. It had become a true home for the sculpture.

Sadly I can't bike to Nat'l Harbor.

dcpeg said...

Come winter and spring floods, more people will realize what a huge loss Hains Point has suffered. Who didn't appreciate his snow obscured parts? When floods receded and more than the knee and extended arm became visible again, who didn't cheer?

I was a regular visitor to The Awakening, but seeing that empty plot at the Point just breaks my heart. It's a shame that the Park Service couldn't come up with the bucks to buy it so that it could remain in its rightful resting place.

Godshamgod said...

On a related note, I'm sure you locals used to have good times climbing the triceratops that used to sit in front of the Natural History museum. Did you know that it now sits, lonely, adjacent to a research facility at the National Zoo?