Great Stone Face


Credit: Reason Magazine

Quick now, which is more deplorable: the destruction of mountain-size carvings that are very old, or the creation of giant new sculpture? Just as the Taliban were detonating Afghanistan's ancient Buddhas, spreading worldwide dismay, plans were hatched to carve a 250-foot face of Alexander the Great on a granite outcropping in Greece, spreading considerable alarm.

The Alexander project would create the world's biggest stone face. The brainchild of Greek sculptor Anastasios Papadopoulos, the work is being underwritten by Greek Americans. According to the sculptor's Alexandros Foundation, "the project will respect and conform to the archaeological, historical, and cultural dimensions of Alexander's philosophy," whatever that means. Still, the prospect of such a work–set to begin in November–has horrified environmentalists, archaeologists, politicians, antiquity bureaucrats, and everyone in Yugoslavian Macedonia who believes Alexander wasn't Greek but Balkan.

A major complaint against the face is that it's kitsch. But outsize works from the Sphinx to Mt. Rushmore have all been more impressive for scale than for grace; even the lamented Buddhas used to be dismissed as merely "grotesque." Scale, like age, emphasizes how elastic the meaning of a work can be, changing for different people at different times. Meaning's never set in stone.