On August 1st, 1971, over 40 years ago, astronauts of Apollo 15 landed on the moon. Unknown at the time, they had planned a memorial for astronauts who had lost their lives to space. A small sculpture was commissioned to be left on the moon: Fallen Astronaut by Belgian artist Paul Van Hoeydonck. Upon returning to Earth, the news of the moon memorial was leaked and the Smithsonian’s National of Air and Space Museum requested a replica to be made. The artist gifted a replica to the museum in 1972 which is now on permanent display. This Thursday, December 12, 2013 the artist returned to the museum to give a talk on his body of work as well as the Fallen Astronaut sculpture.
It is always interesting to meet artists; they are usually some of the most fascinating people to listen to, Paul Van Hoeydonck included. Even though Van Hoeydonck is most famous for his fallen soldier sculpture, he has a noteworthy body of work. He was living in New York in the late 50’s along with the pop artists at the time; however he is not classified as a pop artist because he was not concerned with the daily life on earth, but always looked to the stars for inspiration. Van Hoeydonck loved the idea of another world outside of ours, and expressing his fantasies about a new world in the form of art. Ironically enough, during the interview at the NASM, he expressed that he would never leave the earth for another planet because he was a ‘coward’. He left the space exploration to the astronauts and the art to him. He was also associated, but not a part of, the zero group of artists during the 50’s. During his mid-40’s, the artist became a legend starting with a dinner party where he met David Scott, commander of the Apollo 15 mission, and soon after he was commissioned to make the small scale sculpture to be left on the moon.
NASA prohibited the artist from making any replicas of the fallen soldier other than the one at the NASM, however they soon caught wind of an advertised sale of 950 replicas at $750 each. This did not go over well, and after negative feedback, Van Hoeydonck backed out of the sale. However he did make 50 replicas and continues to give them away, saying during the interview that he has three left in his possession and has never sold one. He produced one of the remaining from his pocket and held it up for all of us to see as it gleamed in the light. The original Fallen Astronaut still however remains on the moon as the only human artifact permanently there.
For more information on the National Air and Space Museum and future programs visit http://airandspace.si.edu/.