Thursday, January 23, 2014

Iraq: Revisiting the Pottery Barn Rule

John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus
Thomas Demand’s “Damage Control.”In 2006, a visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England accidentally became an artwork. Let’s call him Dude Descending a Staircase in honor of that merry prankster Marcel Duchamp. This particular visitor tripped over his feet as he was going down the museum stairs. As he fell, he knocked into three large Qing Dynasty vases that rested on their mounts in a recess.
All three vases fell to the ground and smashed into countless pieces.

In a current exhibit on violence and art in the wake of the bombing of Hiroshima—“Damage Control” at the Hirshhorn in Washington, DC—the German artist Thomas Demand has turned this act of destruction into a work of art. It is a single photograph of the fragments of the vase on the landing, with a hint of orderly English landscaping visible through the window. The work, “Landing,” is a recreation of the damage, a reminder that sometimes all that remains of Humpty Dumpty when he falls from the wall is the forensic reconstruction.
As I stood in front of this photograph, I thought about Colin Powell and Iraq. You might remember Powell’s famous quip about Pottery Barn. In his advice to President George W. Bush prior to the Iraq invasion, Powell warned the president of the Pottery Barn rule: you break it, you own it. The United States would be responsible, Powell implied, for whatever wreckage the military incurred in its headlong dash to unseat Saddam.

Pottery Barn actually has no such a rule, and it was Thomas Friedman who “made up the whole thing.” But Powell, who apologized to Pottery Barn, still embraces the message.

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