Power to the People?
I finally visited Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument, installed in the green space of the Forest Houses apartment complex in the Bronx. It’s a scruffy “club house” dedicated to the Italian communist thinker, who died after a long detention under Mussolini, and consists of a computer room, Gramsci library, speaker’s corner, radio station and other such amenities, all cobbled together from crude plywood sheeting and plexiglass and Hirschhorn’s signature packing tape. Discussing it afterward with an artist and two art historians who’d joined me, we couldn’t decide what to make of the piece. Was there something condescending about bringing this ultra-elite culture to a project’s residents? Was it a serious and useful homage to Gramsci, or just materialized name dropping? Was the presence of high-end outsiders a constitutive part of the piece – and if so, how did we feel about being turned into Hirschhornian brushstrokes? Was the monument actually built around the exoticizing pleasure of slumming, on the part of the artist and his art-world audience? And was it simply rude, in the end, to add more dishevelment to a neighborhood that has more than its share – did the people of Forest Houses not deserve some beauty and order in the monument built in their midst? (Compare the elegant scrap-lumber facilities that Theaster Gates has built on bad streets in Chicago.)
In the end, we decided that by simply raising such questions, and foiling all easy answers, the project declares itself pretty good art. (Photo by Lucy Hogg)
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