Sculpture Journal

Monumental failures: the contested bodies and sites of public art under lockdown

Sculpture Journal (2022), 31, (1), 75–92.

Abstract

This article reads the events of June 2020 surrounding Bristol’s Colston statue and Maggi Hambling’s monument to Mary Wollstonecraft as examples of the tensions emerging around the idea of the monument under lockdown. If lockdown is understood as the suspension of personal and social freedoms, then it is not simply individual movement which is at stake, but the shared space of representation too. To use Judith Butler’s formulation, such space - which is already contested, commercialized, mediated - is precisely where the ‘concrete and sedimented artifices’ of the historically legitimized monument come into performative tension with those ‘empowered actors’ who seek to wrest political legitimacy and visibility. With regard to the Colston monument, its defacing, toppling, attempted destruction and subsequent symbolic repurposing by various audiences including protesters, other artists and the museum reflect the issues that surround contemporary public art discourse and practice under lockdown. Critical analysis of these issues is enabled by theoretical precursors such as Rosalind Krauss’s ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’ (1979). The crises around the status of public art are not only a result of singular events or changes in taste. Rather, there are broader historical causes for the failure or exhaustion of monumentality as form itself.

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Author details

Lambrianou, Nickolas