The question of the appropriateness of certain monuments and statues has been brewing for decades. It finally erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. As civil unrest spread across the country, many statues and monuments were vandalized, destroyed or removed.
In June 2020, three Colorado statues – depicting Kit Carson, Christopher Columbus, and Civil War soldiers – were either toppled by protesters or, in the case of the Carson statue, removed by Denver Parks and Recreation, ” as a precaution to prevent it from being demolished, ”said a city spokesperson.
A panel presentation at the Aspen Art Museum on August 5, titled “Entropy and New Monuments”, was moderated by Rebecca Siegel. It included panel members Naima Keith, Doris Salcedo and Allan Schwartzman. The discussion focused on the merits and drawbacks of the ongoing national debate on statues and monuments and how this will affect future installations.
In 1931, American historian and then president of the American Historical Association Carl L. Becker said: “History is what the present chooses to remember about the past. As communities grapple with the reality of their personal history, commemorated in copper, bronze and stone, the dialogue continues to revolve around attempts to strike an ever delicate balance. “
Moderator Siegel started the August 5 panel by saying, “We think of monuments as celebrations, but many have taken on a different personality in the public space.”
Schwartzman, a New York-based art advisor, said: “There is very little public art that can qualify as a public monument. He added that we are in a time when it is “very easy to demonize or politicize”.
Schwartzman cited two memorials: the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt installed near the Washington Monument in October 1992. Both are located in Washington, DC
“Everyone is an author,” Schwartzman said of the AIDS quilt, and he observed that with it lying on the floor, “you look down. It’s like you’re walking through a cemetery, but it’s alive. He added: “It transcends aesthetics into a pure experience.”
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which opened in 1982, honors members of the US armed forces who fought in Vietnam. Carved into the long walls of black granite are the names of more than 58,000 servicemen “who were killed in a war that was never declared war,” Schwartzman said.
He described the granite structure as “the ultimate tombstone”, intending to be a “truly healing memorial”.
Colombian-born visual artist and sculptor Salcedo said: “A monument needs the public to become a memorial. She agrees that protests are a valid expression because memorials “must be challenged because they are in public space.”
His 2018 artistic installation, Fragments (“Fragments” in Spanish), which Salcedo calls an “anti-monument,” was created at the behest of the Colombian government as part of a peace deal that ended a 52-year civil war. The conflict has left seven million people displaced, 260,000 people murdered and more than 30,000 victims of sexual violence.
Fragments is built from 37 tons of weapons used by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Salcedo shared that initially he was suggested to use the pistols to create an arch-shaped sculpture. Salcedo refused, instead inviting women who had been sexually assaulted to participate in Fragments‘creation and “enable them to overcome a systemic injustice,” she explained. The women melted the weapons, mixing them with steel to create plates. The women then crushed the slabs into 1,300 metal tiles that form the floor of the monument in Bogotá.
Keith, vice president of education and public programs at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said of the change in attitude towards public memorials: “I want the conversation to evolve. To assume that the neighborhood around this sculpture will remain the same in 30 years is unrealistic. “
She is also co-curator of the forthcoming Prospect.5 New Orleans (P.5) project, entitled “Yesterday we said tomorrow”, which is scheduled to open in October 2021, and is a collaborative project with 51 artists and installations in 15 places around New Orleans.
The P.5 website says the project “will study how history shapes the present – especially as it relates to New Orleans, a uniquely American city that epitomizes so many pressing issues today.”
Keith said one facility would use police searchlights, which often appear in neighborhoods that police “deem to be areas of malicious behavior.” She said the work would explore the question, “What does it mean for a neighborhood to be considered unsafe? “
Becker also called the story “not an objective reality, but only an imaginative reconstruction of missing events.” With this sentiment in mind, Salcedo shared that as a society, “we are reclaiming a memory that is in a permanent form of transformation.”
In other words, watch this public space.