Brennan and Blackmun: The Sculpture


Of all our many little discoveries in Justice Harry Blackmun’s papers at the Library of Congress, a personal favorite is the note he sent Justice Brennan when he found out a famous sculptor had named a new creation in their honor.

Richard Serra named a giant T-shaped sculpture “Blackmun and Brennan” because, as he explained to the New York Times in 1989, he admired the two justices. The newspaper’s reviewer interpreted the sculpture “as a kind of heroic figure with outstretched arms, holding up the walls as if straining to hold back the forces of conservatism.”

Blackmun wasn’t a natural ally with Brennan when he joined the Court in 1970. But, as we recount in Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, they increasingly came to align, particularly during the 1980s.

Blackmun, clearly amused by this most unusual and unexpected honor, forwarded a copy of the review to Brennan along with a joking note: “It is a good likeness, don’t you think?”

I came across an article in the New York Times on Friday detailing how one Serra sculpture now sits rusting in a crane yard in an industrial section of the South Bronx in New York City. The story made me wonder what happened to “Blackmun and Brennan.”A little searching reveals it appears to have wound up at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, Finland. Kynaston McShine and Lynne Cooke have a picture of the sculpture displayed in this Helsinki museum in their 2007 book, Richard Serra Sculpture: Forty Years. (I found that image here on Google Books)

A 2009 profile of Serra in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper also mentions the same location. If Google’s translation is to be believed, the story describes Brennan and Blackmun as “the liberal wing men of the Supreme Court.” The story also notes the irony that “this simple symbol of the scales of Justice adorns the lobby of no American court building” but rather resides in a Finnish museum.

Update: Eija Aarnio, a curator at the Kiasma Museum, confirmed in an email that the sculpture is still a part of their Kouri Collection.

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