"The sculpture of a Masai spearman facing off against a crouching lioness has been shunted to a lonely corner, lest someone somehow take offense. Nowadays offense is taken--snatched and grabbed--as if offense were something valuable to own."
I believe he's referring to Malvina Hoffman's spectacular lifesize 6'-8" tall sculpture of a naked Nuer tribesman. The Nuers are elongated Sudanese Nilotics, like their cousins the Dinka, famous for 7'-6" basketball player Manute Bol. Barack Obama Sr.'s Luo tribe are more distant cousins.
Malvina Hoffman has been called "the greatest American artist you've never heard of" and "the American Rodin." She studied under Auguste Rodin, the greatest sculptor since Bernini, and Gutzon Borglum, creator of Mt. Rushmore. Her style was more realistic than Rodin's, which helped drive her out of fashion in a 20th Century art world obsessed with abstraction.
In 1930, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago commissioned her to create 91 full size bronzes and 13 marbles depicting in exquisite detail the "The Races of Mankind." She traveled the world to complete this most titanic sculptural project undertaken by any American woman ever. (Here's her Bushman woman and baby.)
In 1933, the Hoffman exhibit opened in the Field Museum's spectacular custom-built "Hall of Man." It was a major part of the Chicago World's Fair and remained a popular institution for decades afterwards. But it was shut down in 1968 because, well, because it was 1968.
Hoffman’s collection was broken up. A quarter of it is now in Cedar Rapids. When I last visited the Field Museum in 1999, only about half the statues were on display, and many of those were pushed into dark corners, often without labels. The magnificent 6'8" Nilotic Nuer warrior, with proportional masculine endowment, was down in the basement next to the dusty souvenir-making Mold-o-Vac and Penny Squeezer machines.
Last time I was at the Field Museum a decade ago, the Nuer and the two stuffed man-eating lions who killed 130 Indian construction workers in East African in 1898 (as shown in the 1996 Michael Douglas-Val Kilmer movie "The Ghost and the Darkness") were stowed away in the basement with each other.
O'Rourke goes on:
The brontosaurus has been pushed to the back (that is to say the front) of the main hall and isn't called a brontosaurus anymore. (Doubtless offense was taken by Chicago's Bronto-American community.)
Damn, I was sure I'd published something with "Bronto-American" in it, but the closest I can come up with is from my 2001 review of "Jurassic Park III."
Before you rush out to see "Jurassic Park III" based on my stirring endorsement - "It's a lot less annoying than the last one!" - please note that I can't seem to recall anything that happened in either of the first two dinostravaganzas after that first glorious scene of a sunlit grassland with brontosauruses peacefully munching away. All I can remember after that is a lot of gnashing of really big teeth. …
Still, there are some cool new flying pterodactyls in "JP III" that try to turn the cast into birdfeed.
Yeah, okay, I know a lot of you out there are right now firing up your email clients to inform me that they aren't "pterodactyls," they are "pteranodons," and those big galoot herbivores aren't "brontosauruses," they are "brachiosauruses."
Sorry, but that's what I called them when I was a kid and I see no reason to change now. I mean, what did I miss that would change the name of creatures that haven't been around for 65 million years? Did some brontosaurus Jesse Jackson call a press conference to announce that from now on he wanted to be called a "brachiosaurus" and that anybody who forgot and referred to "brontosauruses" was terminally unhip? I bet that when even dinosaurs like me finally start calling them "brachiosauruses," they are going to pull another switcheroo and announce that we are aren't supposed to call them "brachiosauruses" anymore, but now instead they'll be "dinosaurs of bronto."