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
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What a clueless and condescending review. It's "insufferably elitist" to name this monument after Gramsci? Does Pollack have any idea who Gramsci was, other than "the Marxist philosopher and founder of the Italian Communist Party, who was jailed by Mussolini and died in prison in 1937"? And she's even wrong about that -- he died after being released from prison. Gramsci is the most important Marxist thinker other than Marx himself and his influence has been and remains enormous and international. Stuart Hall, Gayatri Spivak, Cornel West, Paulo Freire, Edward Said, Eqbal Ahmad and many, many others are indebted to Gramsci. His ideas have shaped political science, critical theory, cultural studies and postcolonial theory. And despite Pollack's complaint that honoring Gramsci with a monument in the Bronx is "Eurocentric," Gramsci's concepts of hegemony and subalternity have informed the work of many non-Europeans, some of whom I've mentioned here. Pollack thinks it would have been "better" if the monument honored Frantz Fanon. But as she acknowledges, the Forest House residents love the Gramsci monument and even find it "empowering." Yet for Pollack, who thinks she knows better, they probably shouldn't. Now who's the elitist here? And by the way, no one cares about Fanon anymore. He's inconsequential compared to Gramsci. Note: My one star rating here is for Pollack's review, not the monument.