The Lost Order: The American Monument Exhibit at Marywood University’s Maslow Collection

Today’s blog post, featuring pieces written by EJ Murphy and Ryan Ward highlight the new exhibit at the Maslow Study Gallery for Contemporary Art titled, “The American Monument: Changing Definitions.” The theme of the exhibit is to “use art to expand the definition of a monument is in America and what it can be.” Featured artists include: Nicholas Africano, Alice Aycock, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Y.J. Cho, Mark Cohen, Ant Farm, Lee Friedlander, Gianfranco Gorgoni, Peter Halley, Ellsworth Kelly, Will Mentor, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Todd Watts, and Peter Wood. The exhibit is currently on display in the Maslow Gallery at Marywood University.

The Lost Order

The fortunes of war did not favor Abraham Lincoln and the Union forces tasked with subduing the rebellion of the “Confederate States of America” as autumn approached in 1862. General George Brinton McClellan’s attempt to capture the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia and bring the war to a swift end during the spring and summer was met with ruin as the Army of the Potomac was driven off the Virginia Peninsula by Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia.  

Another disastrous defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run in late August did nothing to pacify waning public opinion on the northern home front. The string of rebel victories, along with a desire to move the fighting out of war-torn Virginia, emboldened Lee to devise an invasion of Union territory that would bring European recognition to the Confederacy and completely stamp out oppositional morale. The Army of Northern Virginia crossed the Potomac River and set foot in Maryland on September 4th. By the 7th, the army had reached the city of Frederick where Lee’s plan for the campaign would be put into motion.

While maneuvering northward, “Marse Robert” determined to defy all traditional military convention by dividing his forces while being pursued by a numerically superior foe to dispense with Yankees threatening his rear. Subsequently, the divided troops would then reunite west of the South Mountain range and continue the trek north. Lee issued Special Order No. 191 on September 9, 1862, instructing his commanding officers on their assignments and the separated columns decamped from Frederick. Slowly trailing the rebel horde was George McClellan and the Army of the Potomac.

Those fortunes of war, which had for so long seemed to work against the Union war effort, finally turned in Lincoln’s favor when McClellan’s army entered Frederick on the heels of the Confederate leave. While camped in the city, a contingent of Indiana troops unwittingly stumbled upon a lost and forgotten copy of Lee’s orders. General McClellan had in his hands the planned movement of the Army of Northern Virginia. What effect that the loss and finding of the “Lost Order” had on the immediate circumstances has, and will likely continue to be, debated endlessly by historians. One thing is certain, however. The events of those fateful September days positioned the opposing armies along a quiet creek in western Maryland – the Antietam.

The Battle of Antietam was the single-bloodiest day of the American Civil War. By the cessation of hostilities on September 17th, 1862, almost 23,000 men were casualties of war. The tactical Union victory wrought immense consequences for the future of slavery in the United States. In the days following the battle, President Abraham Lincoln believed that it was time to finally strike at the peculiar institution and issued his Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all enslaved people in rebel-controlled territory. Much like the “Lost Order,” the immediate consequences, and more importantly, the long-term ramifications of the Emancipation Proclamation have been subject of debate since it went into effect on New Year’s Day, 1863.

The abolition of slavery, the new society that would rise from the ashes of bondage, and the social structure that would be forever changed in the United States are not just 18th and 19th century history. These issues that have transcended the Civil War era, through Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Movement, and the current-day social justice debates that pervade our national discourse, can all trace their roots back to the original debates over our nation’s original sin. The “Lost Order” is just one small yet important speck in the painting of our nation.

The American Monument: Changing Definitions

Every artwork is a type of monument. It is a thought that is held in enough regard so as to bring it forth into the world. Upon creation, it becomes a placeholder or reminder of an idea or set of ideas.  

At a time when very little about the words “American” and “monument” seems fixed in place, this exhibition aims to use photographs from Lee Friedlander’s 1976 “The American Monument” series and other select works from The Maslow Collection to expand the definition of what a monument in America is and what it can be.       

On view are examples of works that feature the figure, landscape, abstraction, architecture, and symbols to question or comment on events, places, and people that are deemed important in the United States. However literal, metaphorical, public, or private these representations of ideas (and ideals) are, they all convey a sense of existing in continuous flux.  

In reflecting on Friedlander’s 1973 General Andrew Jackson photograph, guest-contributor to the exhibition, Dr. Adam Shprintzen notes:  

History is forever moving, just like Jackson appears to be in this photograph. How we choose to remember that history should also continue to be a subject of consideration, debate, and intellectual movement that reflect modern realities and a more accurate accounting of the past.

Ryan Ward, Curator

Featured artists include:

Nicholas Africano, Alice Aycock, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Y.J. Cho, Mark Cohen, Ant Farm, Lee Friedlander, Gianfranco Gorgoni, Peter Halley, Ellsworth Kelly, Will Mentor, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Todd Watts, Peter Wood

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