March 5, 2015

"While the propaganda monuments that remained in prime locations continued to stir regular controversy, this controversy was never massive enough to actually lead to their demolition."

"That's how the supporters of the 'bridges symbols' even managed to list them as heritage, making the demolition harder. Opponents, unable to remove the sculptures, then attempted to 'put them into context' through 'additional features.' Some of them were temporary (e.g. a NATO flag overshadowing the Soviet army sculpture), others permanent (e.g. a plaque with information on the Soviet occupation), yet others never completed (e.g. a suggestion to put the statues in cages)."

From an article about the relocation of the Žaliasis Bridge statues to Grutas Park — a place of exile for Soviet-era sculpture in Lithuania —which we were talking about last week, after the NYT did a story about living in Airbnb places in Europe that included photos of Americans enjoying themselves in the company of gigantic statues of Lenin and Stalin. That second link has a video about Grutas Park that shows the Žaliasis Bridge statues and discusses the now-overruled decision to leave them in their prominent place on the 4 corners of the bridge.

I could understand the decision to leave them there, but I'm a stranger to the context. Sculpture that was designed for a particular site is partly destroyed when it is moved, even though it is otherwise preserved. If something is artistically good, but a remnant of an earlier time that the people who control the place now wish to reject completely, what should they do? The middle position is to move the sculpture out of its place of honor but otherwise to preserve it. Keep in mind the subject of Islamist extremists who have been sledgehammering ancient statues, which is what got me started talking about this subject.

What would you do with artistically good statues that you deeply disapprove of?
 
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ADDED: There's also the question whether the site was designed for the sculpture. Are the 4 corners of Žaliasis Bridge plinths or did the sculpture-supporting function arise in the mind of the invader?

24 comments:

Rusty said...

Put fig leaves on em'.

ddh said...

Every town of any size in the Soviet Union had statues of Lenin and other Communist bigwigs. The "art" was mass-produced by sculptors who often didn't know where their work was going. It was a Soviet version of the artists of Monterrey, Mexico, who produce paintings of Elvis or tigers on black velvet.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

Pigeons are God's way of keeping us from taking public monuments too seriously.

The Drill SGT said...

The most controversial one among them represents the Soviet army and even includes hammer and sickle, which is a banned symbol in Lithuania.

I would leave these 4 there, but there is clearly a case for removing all 'hammer and sickle' art.

after all, you don't have any surviving Swastika art in Germany or Eastern Europe in public places.

It all got chiseled off

Birkel said...

Case by case with a strong bias toward protection.

Bob Boyd said...

Use art to deal with art.
For example take the faces of Stalin and Lenin and the Hammer and Sickle symbol and build them into the floors of the urinals in a public restroom.
Plaques above could tell visitors who they are pissing on and why.

MadisonMan said...

Keep them. Remember your history.

Hagar said...

According to Norman Davies, Stalin and his successors so thoroughly "Sovietized" the City of Kaliningrad, that when Davies visited it in the late 1990s, the city's tourism director had no idea that Kaliningrad once was an important East-German city and cultural center named Königsberg.

Anthony said...

This happens in lots of places when they democratize. Spain went through it with the statues of Franco.

The political ones I say remove (Lenin, Stalin etc). War memorials depend.

traditionalguy said...

I say replace them all with bigger statues of Ronald Reagin pointing towards Moscow inscribed with "Tear Down this Evil Empire."

Bob Boyd said...

“Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the world has stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again. The world was almost won by such an ape! The nations put him where his kind belong. But do not rejoice too soon at your escape — The womb he crawled from is still going strong.” Bertold Brecht, The Resistable Rise of Arturo Ui.

traditionalguy said...

I cannot resist asking, but what about the Stars and Bars Battle Flag of the late, great Confederate States of America? You know. the football mascot of the entire state of Ole Miss.

Hammond X. Gritzkofe said...

Q: What would you do with artistically good statues that you deeply disapprove of?

A: Send them to sites in the Levant as cultural exchange exhibits to replace antiquities removed and now on display in Western museums.

Known Unknown said...

Keep them. Keep the dialogue about them. Remember your history and the reason for why you no longer revere those particular men.

Jim Gust said...

"What would you do with artistically good statues that you deeply disapprove of?"

The statues at issue were artistically awful. They should be destroyed on that basis alone, they are not worth keeping.

The politics is something else, however. Moscow would consider their destruction a provocation, which is to be avoided at this time. Of, course, Moscow has shown it can whip up a "provocation" whenever it needs one.

MathMom said...

Option not included: Have a contest where groups paint them however they want, like groups in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho decoratively paint the utility boxes and moose statues.

Steve M. Galbraith said...

There's a controversy/debate over renaming the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma since Pettus was a key member (Grand Dragon) of the Klan more than a century ago.

But it's also, of course, the name associated with of one of the most important events in the civil rights movement and changing the name changes our memory of the event.

Marc said...

Will someone please show me/point me to an 'artistically good' statue that I might 'deeply disapprove of'? (Off the top of my head, I can't think of any state-commissioned sculpture so utterly awful that it warrants the additional public expense that'd be entailed in moving or destroying it but of course my homeland hasn't been invaded etc etc.)

I suspect that it isn't possible to have 'good art' that is also somehow inherently 'worthy of profound disapprobation'.

Toad said...

If we think a Confederate flag on a statehouse is offensive, imagine how the Lithuanians feel about sculptures honoring a tyrant that murdered tens of thousands of their fellow citizens.

Sometimes the "arts community" forgets that there is a broader community that has values higher than art for its own sake.

Anthony said...

@traditionalguy

About the Confederate flag, I would keep it on war memorials where it already is present and not conspicuous. I would however, not fly it from the statehouse (which is no longer an issue really) or have conspicuous monuments about it. As there was a reconciliation after the war I would not take down the otehr confederate monuments (statues and the like) but make sure we have new moments to people like King.

Anthony said...

@traditionalguy

About the Confederate flag, I would keep it on war memorials where it already is present and not conspicuous. I would however, not fly it from the statehouse (which is no longer an issue really) or have conspicuous monuments about it. As there was a reconciliation after the war I would not take down the otehr confederate monuments (statues and the like) but make sure we have new moments to people like King.

Jim said...

In Macon Co MO, there is a monument to their war dead. Up until WW1 or 2, they separate the colored from the rest. I love that sign because it shows we can change but I can see how some might want to change the sign.

ken in tx said...

Also about the Confederate flag, The Stars and Bars consisted of a circle of nine stars in a blue union and three red and white bars, similar to the current state flag of Georgia.

The familiar Confederate Naval Ensign, with the saltire of St Andrew, borrowed from the British Union Jack, was never called the Stars and Bars until recently by mistake.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the post.

I'd note however that it is not entirely correct. As the linked article says, the removal of Žaliasis Bridge in Vilnius sculpture is as-of-yet undecided (heritage status left intact).

The Soviet symbols (bas-reliefs) that undergo removal are at another Lithuanian bridge (Aleksotas bridge in Kaunas).

Basically both bridges were/are part of the same popular campaign against such symbols, however, so this does not change the topic of discussion.