The Absence of Monuments

Removal of statue of Saddam Hussein in al-Firdos Square on 9 April 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images
Removal of statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square on 9 April 2003. Photo by Mirrorpix/Getty Images
“Historically, the monument–as distinguished from all other things that are present–was supposed to endure for all time.”¹

The monument, here used in relation to public sculpture, is a particular kind of thing. By virtue of its placement in an open, accessible location, it reaches a wide audience and because of this reach is often understood as an object of collective import, whether speaking to supposed universal truths or serving as a receptacle for memorialization. This understanding of the ‘monument’ and sculpture’s connection to the notion of monumentality has undergone considerable revision in recent years, but the history of public things has always been tenuous and problematic. And yet, in the face of such instability, monuments continue to endure; entrenched both in physical space and the collective consciousness. Beyond the subject matter they were created to convey, public sculptures become receptors for much larger issues, and nodes for exchange: meeting points, sites of grief and triumph, landmarks, and social gathering places. These functions insulate the work in a way, making any proposed extrication or destruction difficult (see as one example among many, a recent case involving a community hit hard by the economic downturn and one such entrenched thing, a sculpture by Henry Moore). Continue reading “The Absence of Monuments”