Impossible monuments make sense of the legacy of the Cold War

The Cold War – OverSimplified (Part 1)

Impossible monuments make sense of the legacy of the Cold War

; Impossible monuments comprehend the legacy of the Cold War

The results of the international competition of projects of monuments have been summed up

Choosing a place to discuss the results of the competition for the best monument «in honor of the victory in the Cold War» turned out to be extremely symbolic. The initiators of this ambitious project, artist, exhibition organizer Yevgeniy Fiks and curator, art historian Stamatina Gregory, invited guests to one of the buildings of the New School University on West 12 Street in Manhattan in the so-called «Orozco’s room».

Roll call of eras

Here in 1931 the Mexican monumentalist Jose Clemente Orozco painted the walls of two rooms as a gift to a new socially oriented educational institution. As the subjects for the frescoes, the Mexican muralist chose the class struggle of different peoples of the world and revolutionary events on the planet, including the Russian revolution of 1917. In this section, heroized images of Lenin and Stalin are highlighted. It is not surprising that in the era of McCarthyism, the university administration, fearing accusations of sympathy for communism, curtained this part of the fresco from an unkind look..

The atmosphere of a radical, truly revolutionary breakdown of eras permeates most of the projects that took part in the competition invented by Eugene Fix and developed by him jointly with Stamatina Gregory. And, of course, many of these projects were filled with additional meaning due to the date, which is crucial for Europe and the world, which is being celebrated these days. – 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Stamatina Gregory and Eugene Fix in &# 171; Orozco’s room&# 187 ;. Photo: Oleg Sulkin

At the beginning of the meeting, three short experimental films were shown, which can also be considered a contribution to the development of the theme of the Cold War and its legacy. One of these films, «One night», Petersburg art group «What to do» it was presented by Nikolay Oleinikov, a participant. As indicated on one of the sites, Nikolay – «artist, punk, anti-fascist». The film’s punk aesthetics brings to mind Bertold Brecht’s epic theater and pop agitprop «Blue blouse».

«Fundamental changes in relation to monuments of the Soviet era began with Euromaidan, – said Nikolay Oleinikov. – What began to happen in various cities of Ukraine can be called «Leninopad». People in droves began to destroy and demolish monuments to the leaders of communism … In recent years, the content of the concept of monumentality has been rapidly changing. For example, the current trolls, working for Russian propaganda and, in principle, invisible, produce work that is monumental in scope and meaning.» (hereinafter translated from English).

Exhibition and book

The discussion was attended by the organizers of the project, participants of the competition, artists, designers and art critics.

The organizers of the meeting reminded the audience that the main results of the competition were the exhibition of the finalists’ projects at the private college Cooper Union (New York), held in 2014, and the book published last year «Cold War Victory Monument» (Monument to Cold War Victory) – a collection of essays under one cover with an annotated color catalog of projects marked by the jury of the competition. Published jointly by Cooper Union and The Wende Museum, Culver City, Calif..

«The Cold War lasted 46 years and was allegedly won by the West», – write in the introductory article to the book by Eugene Fix and Stamatin Gregory. Their article is entitled «Impossible monuments».

In 2012, Fix and Gregory, who joined him, threw a cry, primarily in the artistic communities of the United States and Russia, with an invitation to artists and creative teams to take part in a competition to create a monument in honor of the end of the Cold War. More than two hundred participants, who sent their projects, responded to this proposal. Jury of six experts – three Americans and three Russians – chose a shortlist of 17 projects. They became the winners of the competition..

«I am flattered by the attention to our project «monumental propaganda» 90s, – said artist Vitaly Komar, member of the jury of the competition (project «monumental propaganda» – joint brainchild of Komar and his then co-author Alexander Melamid. – O.S.). – In Soviet times, the stake was placed on demonstrative publicity, on the grandiose scale of monuments. People walked around the huge monuments. Today I am interested in the idea of ​​small monuments that would, so to speak, walk around the public. Take at least the coins that wander from pocket to pocket. It seems to me that it would be worthwhile to think about whose profiles should be placed on the coins.».

Impossible monuments make sense of the legacy of the Cold War

Hammer and sword

On screen in «Orozco’s room» the winning projects were projected, the participants presented and commented on them, and the audience responded with questions or laughter to rapidly changing images.

Multimedia artists Anthony Aziz and Sammy Cucher (Aziz + Cucher) live in Brooklyn and teach at the Parsons School of Design, part of the University of New School. They offered to embody in granite the exact interior plan of the luxurious penthouse in Central Park West, bought in 2012 for a record $ 88 million at that time by the Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev for his daughter, who studied in New York. A huge gloomy installation on a one-to-one scale, outwardly resembling a labyrinth from which there is no exit, «posted» in the open space of Central Park, opposite the same building with the penthouse. As the authors explained, this is a kind of ironic symbol of the outcome of the Cold War, when the sensational acquisitions of Russian billionaires became the personification of the dizzying rise of plutocracy..

Aziz and Kucher’s project. Photo: Oleg Sulkin

A bronze sculpture by the Soviet sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich was installed on the territory of the UN headquarters on the East River in 1959 «Let’s beat swords into plowshares». This gift of the Soviet government to the international community was to personify «peaceful course» Soviet Union. Project by artist and designer Konstantin Boym «Back to Moscow» presupposes no less symbolic return of the athletic hammer to Russia, while retaining his hammer weapon and bent sword in the remaining sculptural composition. Having lost the main character, according to the author of the project, the composition will become the personification of the victory of capitalism over communist doctrine and practice..

Project by Christoph Draeger. Photo: Oleg Sulkin

Swiss-born multimedia artist Christoph Draeger (he lives in New York and Europe) decided to capture the moment when the statue of Karl Marx passed into oblivion in the project «Untitled». The bronze bust of the founder is entwined with ropes and hooked to a giant crane, which, apparently, has just removed it from the pedestal. Draeger’s work in the most ingenuous way captures the parting of society with a discredited ideology and its demiurges that have lost their magical power..

«Return of monumentality»

Impossible monuments make sense of the legacy of the Cold War

Professor at New School University, New York, great-granddaughter of Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, political scientist and historian Nina Khrushcheva wrote an article for the collection published last year, in which she analyzed «return of Russian monumentality» in the era of Putin’s rule. In her speech in the discussion, she emphasized that the imperial consciousness and the accompanying monumental style returned in full after the annexation of Crimea and the outbreak of war with Ukraine..

«A new cult of personality (Putin’s) is noticeable in Russia, which is being introduced, I must say, very cleverly and ingeniously., – noted by Nina Khrushcheva. – Monuments are erected to such personalities as Prince Vladimir, who baptized Russia, as Ivan the Terrible, as the creator of the Kalashnikov assault rifle».

Impossible monuments make sense of the legacy of the Cold War

«Putin sees himself as Putin First, not just the successor of communist autocrats, – writes in her essay Nina Khrushcheva. – He consolidates his image not so much in the manner of Soviet leaders as in the manner of the Russian tsars, glorifying the monarchical past to cement his own monumental present.».

It is symbolic that the big changes in world politics over the past five years forced us to take a fresh look at the very concept of the Cold War..

As Evgeny Fix notes on the pages of the collection, the annexation of Crimea, the Maidan, the suppression of protests in Russia and a change in attitudes towards Russia in the West make us talk about «second edition of the Cold War».

  • Oleg Sulkin

    Journalist, film critic, correspondent for the Russian Service «Voices of America» in New York. Subscription

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