Utopian visions in the Bronx
Thomas Hirschhorn’s monument to communist thinker Antonio Gramsci brings art to new audience
By Charlotte Burns. News, Issue 248, July-August 2013
Published online: 01 July 2013
The fourth and final work in the series of “monuments” dedicated to writers and thinkers by the Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn marks the quiet return of the Dia Art Foundation to New York.
The Gramsci Monument is the first major commission to be fully funded by Dia since 1996, when it extended the New York incarnation of Joseph Beuys’s 7,000 Oaks project, which originally began in Kassel, Germany. It is also the first project to be overseen by Philippe Vergne since he became the institution’s director in 2008. “This was a great place to start,” he says. “I thought it was fantastic to continue the tradition of site-specific projects with someone who deals with utopias, with what he calls a ‘non-exclusive audience’, and who rubs a little bit against the idea of Dia as a Minimalist institution—which it’s not. Its history is extremely diverse.”
Gramsci Monument is the first in the series to take place outside Europe: the project began in 1999 with Spinoza Monument in Amsterdam, followed by Deleuze Monument in Avignon in 2000 and Bataille Monument in Kassel as part of Documenta in 2002. “It is not only the biggest monument, but perhaps the most complex and the most ambitious,” Hirschhorn says.
This tribute to the Italian communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci takes the form of an outdoor pavilion that has been constructed by the artist and a team of around 15 local residents, using everyday materials that will be raffled off locally when the project ends on 15 September. Events include lectures, poetry readings, a newspaper, a radio show and happy hour at the bar. “On its own, it’s an institution,” Vergne says of the monument. “It only lasts three months, but within that time, it will do everything that an institution does.”
Forest Houses, the housing development in the Bronx where the work is situated, offers an opportunity to reach an audience that “perhaps doesn’t go by choice to a museum or gallery, or isn’t even interested in art”, Hirschhorn says. The monument is not made for art lovers and professionals (although they are “of course included”). “That’s why it’s not in front of a museum, or on the High Line or on Park Avenue. What I really want is for people from the neighbourhood to enjoy it.”
The artist wants everyone involved in the project to consider themselves the authors, taking full responsibility for their work. “It’s like energy—we are multiplying it. I would be happy if there were 300 authors of this project. I believe art can create a dialogue, a possibility of understanding,” he says. He has invented the term “unshared authorship” to describe his ideas about the position of the artist. “Why should I say this is community art, participatory art, educational art, relational aesthetic art, when I know I do it for other reasons? The artist has to fight for his own terms—he does something new, so he cannot use an old term for a new form and new ambition.”
The project “has inspired all of us. The energy is incredible,” says Erik Farmer, the president of the Forest Houses residents’ association. “We’re going to be able to reach a lot of people, which is what Thomas wants.” Farmer was pivotal in the choice of site, Hirschhorn says.
Farmer is most excited about the art classes for local children. “Public schools here aren’t into art, so this is going to be good. There are more than 300 housing developments in New York and a lot of them are saying they want to bring their kids over.” He adds: “People don’t quite understand what this is yet, but they will. Honestly, I was never into art and I am definitely into it now—this project has changed me totally.”
Dia plans permanent move back to New York
Dia is discreetly fundraising for its permanent move back to New York. The institution has not had a major presence in the city since 2004, but intends to renovate three buildings on West 22nd Street in Chelsea and create around 12,000 sq. ft of exhibition space, where artists will create year-long shows.
The required budget has never been publicly revealed, and Dia’s director, Philippe Vergne, remains tight-lipped. “We will say more very soon, but right now, it’s still premature,” he says.
The foundation’s website says that the new building will open in late 2016, but Vergne is reluctant to confirm this. “The campaign is going well, but we’re not exactly where I want to be before I put a shovel in the ground,” he says. “When we see that we are actually getting there, we will be very loud about it.”
He is concentrating not only on capital for the renovation but also on building an endowment. “The true foundation of an institution is the endowment; that’s what will give Dia the capacity to think independently.”
Following in the Dia tradition, Vergne’s goal is to “uncompromisingly support the vision of artists. We should identify which artists we deeply believe will change the course of art history. It’s very ambitious and slightly arrogant to say so, but the goal is to identify these artists.”
This article appears in our forthcoming July/August issue, available to subscribers from 1 July
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