Dia-sponsored public art project with an insidious problem at its heart. The monument is part shantytown, part cultural center, created out of the artist’s signature materials of plywood, blue tarp and reams of brown plastic packing tape. It houses a stage, Internet center, library, newspaper office, radio station, café, art studio and kiddie pool, all on the grounds of a South Bronx housing project. The community, who have assisted in building and running the facility, are thrilled with the results, actively engaging with them in ways that are rarely solicited by white-cube exhibitions.
The presence of this piece has been so galvanizing that it is almost possible to ignore its Eurocentric homage to Antonio Gramsci, the Marxist philosopher and founder of the Italian Communist Party, who was jailed by Mussolini and died in prison in 1937. Hirschhorn’s agenda, then, is insufferably elitist, especially notable when, for example, academic Marcus Steinweg took to the stage to deliver a lecture while the locals fled. This issue has been raised by all of Hirschhorn’s recent “monuments,” stationed, like this one, in various housing projects throughout Europe. But here, his efforts only underscore his hero’s questionable relevance to the African-American community.
Nevertheless, Gramsci Monument has been clearly empowering for the residents of the Forest Houses. It would have been better if the piece had been dedicated to someone like the Afro-Caribbean writer Frantz Fanon, whose text The Wretched of the Earth fueled the Algerian liberation movement. The addition of his name would have been all the more revolutionary in this context.—Barbara Pollack