Monday, September 23, 2013

Thomas Hirschhorn's Gramsci Monument

Thomas Hirschhorn’s The Gramsci Monument stood for 77 days on a green in the Forest Houses public housing in the Bronx.  Under Hirschhorn’s direction, the residents of the Forest Houses built and staffed this project, and the Dia Foundation paid for the materials and salaries. This triangulation of interest, commitment, and enthusiasm resulted in a social club more than a monument. Hirschhorn designed the functional plywood structure of two bunkhouses connected by a footbridge. On the surface, it looked flimsy, like it was constructed with brown packaging tape.  However, the building was quite solid, containing a library, an Internet room, a radio station, a newsroom, a café, an art room, and lecture hall.  Every day was programming provided by artists and philosophers performing, discussing, and answering questions on various ideas about art, democracy, and freedom, and anything relevant.
            This is Thomas Hirschhorn’s fourth monument to philosophers who are his ‘heroes.’ Antonio Gramsci was an early 20th century Italian Marxist. According to Hirschhorn, Gramsci’s writings  are the intersection of ‘love and politics.’ Many quotes from Gramsci’s diaries like “Every human being is an intellectual” are spray painted throughout,   One remarkable result of Hirschhorn’s optimism and belief, an art foundation’s sheparding, and a housing project’s invitation and courage is a dismantling of a singular cultural hegemony.


  1. I agree that the monument was an example of cultural hegemony, but judging from your review, you don't seem to understand what it means. In Gramsci's theory, cultural hegemony refers to the worldview perpetuated by the ruling classes that is presented as being beneficial to everyone, while really only benefiting those in power. The monument was conceived by a privileged white man, funded by a foundation of privileged white people, and promoted as an attraction for the privileged (mostly) white art world to come and gawk at the poverty and blackness of the residents. The power structure of the monument turns the poverty and other-ness of the residents into a spectacle for the enjoyment of art-world pilgrims. By forcing his fetish for Gramsci onto this proletarian community, Hirschhorn is, ironically, establishing a power structure that benefits himself and the art world at the expense of the residents, who are presented as stereotypes of urban poverty who need the help of the ruling class to become "enlightened" by Gramsci's philosophy.

  2. To respond to Roman's comment, it's a little disconcerting that you strongly accuse Hirschorn and the Dia foundation of exploiting and, what you imply, make spectacle of the community where the monument stood. If that's the case, then no matter what, any two communities coming together of different backgrounds would seem suspicious and would automatically trigger a paranoia on the basis of "who is being used, exploited and mocked". The monument was meant to serve a community and I found it extremely successful in doing that, the public interaction of the structure was not only welcomed but genuine and sincere.

    Secondly, as I did find the monument successful in uniting two communities, the aesthetics, though some may have made sense ( a 'treehouse' like structure, a community's gathering place) seemed a little too underdeveloped and made hard to experience Gramsci's writings and artifacts; I was a bit lost in direction and lost focus of what was preciously presented. The public readings were very moving and did help to reinforce the idea behind the project. I have mixed feelings.

    1. I believe that I have a right to be suspicious, since there is a long history of white, western European culture using, exploiting, and mocking the other cultures of the world. This isn't just the coming together of any two cultures: this is a wealthy white artist colonizing a section of an economically unprivileged and mostly black community to build a monument to one of his heroes. Does nobody else see anything wrong with that?

      I respect your suspicion, and an NPR interview may be suspicious too. But here, Erik Farmer has an eloquent response.