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August 21, 2023

Shop InLiquid Staff Pick: "...And the Pursuit of Happiness; Tyranny and Oppression" by Marc Blumthal

About the Author
Mary Gabriele

See the exhibition here

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When first looking at Marc Blumthal’s ...And the Pursuit of Happiness; Tyranny and Oppression, it seemed like a digital collage of a simple monument. In many cities and towns throughout America, monuments commemorate significant events and figures. I first thought the monument could be commemorating a past president or hero. Then, after a few moments of observation, the structure felt familiar. I saw this image before. I visited this place before, along with thousands of people each day. But I was not looking at a monument, I was looking at Lady Liberty, who is missing from Blumthal’s image. The Statue of Liberty: a universal symbol of freedom, liberty, and equal opportunity. Blumthal removed the symbolic statue from his art along with the words, “Life, liberty” in the piece's title. 

This digital collage by Marc Blumthal is a simple but impactful work of art. Instead of focusing on the statue itself, Blumthal concentrates on the Statue of Liberty's pedestal. It is easy to overlook the pedestal, but it's a work of art in its own right. Blumthal frames the spectators below to look minuscule in contrast to the 154-foot-tall pedestal. Onlookers stand in awe gazing at the massive statue before them. Hues of blue and gray radiate out of the pedestal, replacing the Statue of Liberty. The blue and white rays match the backdrop of a beautiful blue sky. The beams further emphasize the structure's grandeur. The Statue of Liberty’s pedestal is uniquely highlighted as opposed to the actual statue.

Several of Blumthal's works critique prominent monuments associated with American national identity. He asks the questions, “What does it mean to be American?” and “Why are we here?” Viewers are given the opportunity to contemplate whether grand monuments reflect today's America accurately. In this piece, he questions the meaning behind the Constitution in reference to The Statue of Liberty. The Declaration of Independence says, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The United States was founded on these principles in 1776. The missing Statue of Liberty and the title of the work, however, suggest that the promise that life and liberty isn't always fulfilled for Americans. Blumthal paints a powerful picture of the struggle for these rights that continues to this day.

Despite the lack of liberty in the United States, its citizens strive for happiness. Blumthal keeps the words “...and the pursuit of happiness” in his title. These are the words that traditionally follow "life, liberty” in the Declaration of Independence. Blumthal’s title makes me wonder what happiness means in America. Happiness is a significant aspect of the American dream. Many Americans search for happiness every day, despite hardships and adversity. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of happiness for many. According to the Declaration of Independence, the government must protect our happiness. However, all too often, happiness is overshadowed by other hardships. 

Based on the title of the piece, Blumthal suggests tyranny and oppression could be a better replacement for "life and liberty" in modern America. The absence of the Statue of Liberty in the photograph and the words, “Tyranny and oppression,” leaves one wondering if it accurately represents America. Tyranny: cruel and oppressive government rule. Oppression: the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control. These words evoke a feeling of despair and fear, suggesting that Blumthal believes America is not living up to its promise of life and liberty.

Marc Blumthal’s piece, … And the Pursuit of Happiness; Tyranny and Oppression allows viewers to think about America's reality. Many Americans value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but oppression and tyranny often overshadow them. Blumthal’s removal of the Statue of Liberty is simple, but it tells a story about America's reality. The statue misrepresents many American lives, specifically, people living in poverty, people of color, women, and anyone who faces everyday injustices. …And the Pursuit of Happiness; Tyranny and Oppression is a simple artistic comment on the United States government and society. Marc Blumthal’s piece serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles that many Americans face. Despite the promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, reality is often far from it. Tyranny and oppression remain real issues for many, and the lack of the Statue of Liberty in the photograph serves as a visual representation of this.

Marc Blumthal’s ...And the Pursuit of Happiness; Tyranny and Oppression is available for purchase here.

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