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Oprah Sarcophagus Statue by Daniel Edwards:New American Idol?

By C. Antonio Romero

SAN FRANCISCO, 31 JANUARY 2008-The Oprah Sarcophagus, the latest work of sculptor Daniel Edwards, is bound to be his most talked-about media tweaking since the Monument to Pro-Life Britney Spears sculpture put him on most people's maps. But perhaps this wasn't exactly his plan.

The hyper-curvaceous depiction of America's unstoppable daytime-talk heavyweight engages in Edwards' usual po-mo riff on figures different artistic traditions. If the Paris Hilton Autopsy sculpture played off of numerous classical depictions of the hunter goddess Artemis, then the Oprah Winfrey statue goes one step further, in actually presenting "the closest thing America has to a living deity" as precisely that.

On the one hand, the obvious, explicit allusion is to Egyptian royal sarcophagi (some, perhaps lacking other points of reference, suggest an uncanny resemblance to King Tut ). But as usual Edwards works in a sculptural quotation that may escape many pop-saturated 21st century viewers: the prehistoric goddess figurine known as the Venus of Willendorf.

Oprah Sarcophagus and Venus of WIllendorf:
Twin Goddesses Separated at Creation?

Willendorf image from Wikimedia Commons, used under license.
Oprah Sarcophagus image of unknown origin.

Seen side by side, the comparison is inevitable. The medium and scale are different: the stone Willendorf fits in the palm of the hand, while the bronze Oprah figure is life-size (or perhaps larger-than-life, if the modern goddess has kept her weight down).

But the similarities are striking-- the overall silhouette, the curves and proportions, the stylized hair (even if the styles are different)... and, tellingly, the tiny feet and the peculiar arms (it's not clear whether the Oprah figure even has any).

And with the 25,000 year old Willendorf being among the oldest surviving Venus or Goddess depictions known, it's an entirely apt point of reference for the joke the sculpture seems to be trying to make: that Oprah Winfrey has become the ultimate female power icon in America. (Of course, Hillary Clinton could be in the running for that title, if she wins the Democratic primaries upcoming-- and she is already the subject of an Edwards sculpture.)

One more irony: some have theorized that the distorted proportions of the Willendorf suggest that it may be a self-portrait from a woman's point of view-- the breats fill the field of vision looking downwards, for example. While I myself would not take this as a realistic interpretation, I would see it as apt for Oprah, whose universe, from her perspective, is filled with her own beauty and radiance.

What's peculiar about this project, though, is that Edwards doesn't seem to have carried out his usual pattern:

  • A model of a sculpture riffing on classical art and pop celebrity (Paris, Britney, or even Barbaro )
  • A press release that links the sculpture to some mock-serious, tangentially related subject of mock-piety (pro-life posturing, drunk driving, or animal cruelty)
  • In recent works, some attempt to interact with his Internet viewers (a far larger grioup than would ever make it to New York to see his pieces)
  • An eventual art gallery opening.

Here, in spite of this being a perfect and perfectly clever target, we have only a fragment of a quote, one image of the sculpture seemingly reproduced everywhere, and a lot of people on the Web citing each other.

If I had to guess (and I don't, but I will), I'd say Edwards wasn't in fact fully in control of the release of this image and quote. Could someone have lifted this image? Or could the sculpture have been finished, then quashed by Oprah's People, with one image and quote being leaked out in spite of the stifling? (Or could the mainstream media be afraid to run the usual press release, given the subject matter and Oprah's near-divine might?)

Britney Spears is too busy melting down , I think, to be concerned about Edwards' exploitation of her image. (Paris Hilton, as always, welcomes cheap media exposure.) Oprah, on the other hand, will not be inclined to let this pass lightly. Perhaps the modern media Juno will borrow a thunderbolt or two?

Let's see if there's more news about Edwards and, pictures of this Oprah sculpture, and news about where the sculpture is to be unveiled. If Edwards runs true to form, we should see a press release linking the sculpture to the critical problems with obesity and/or diabetes in America, or to representations of race, or, heaven forbid, to Black History Month.

Related stories:

Britney Spears: Amateur Media Jammer?

All Daniel Edwards Stories

Britney Spears Monument to Pro-Life

Paris Hilton Autopsy Sculpture

Suri Cruise Poop Bronzed; To Be Sold on Ebay

With Barbaro and Oprah Sculptures, Edwards Baits Media

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