What’s Not To Like? Thomas Hirschhorn’s ‘Gramsci Monument’

26hirsch-master1050I am completely bewildered by Ken Johnson’s harsh blast of Thomas Hirschhorn’s “Gramsci Monument”  (NYT July 25, 2013).  My visit to the site, a week before Johnson’s, left me elated, unlike the “irritable and depressed” condition the experience apparently rendered the critic.  As a matter of fact, I was so enchanted by the profound and raw beauty of Hirschhorn’s project in the South Bronx, that I was moved to tears as I walked through the installation, witnessing this community-based art and life-reinforcing masterpiece succeeding in every possible way.  A humble Hirschhorn moved quietly amongst children and adults from the community, intensely engaged. Local day-camp groups in matching t-shirts, as well as visitors from outside the community wandered in from time to time. Whether individuals were examining the fascinating Gramsci literature and artifacts, listening to a lecture, making a painting, publishing the daily newspaper,  shooting love? politics? hoops, being interviewed by the engaging radio DJ Phil Beder or catching up with a neighbor on a park bench by the playground elephant sprinkler, it was clear to me that energy and pride were present that day and continue to run on the highest settings at the Forest Houses project.  After all, it was Gramsci’s vision that “alternative cultures are developed by disenfranchised groups through self-education, self-organization and the creation of new institutions.” Hirschhorn has enabled the possibility for just this sort of model by engaging this community so beautifully.  And how could you not be charmed by the furniture wrapped in packing tape (ostensibly for protection from the elements) bringing to mind Christo’s early Packages. The same tape was used to soften the sharp corners of plywood banisters and stools. The intention was practical, but the effect was so striking- so, dare I say it, artistic?  It is such a fine line. The same fine line that lies, perhaps,  between Art and Life. Which raises the age old question of what is art, right?  Gramsci put it well, “The Content of Art is Art Itself.”  Here in the South Bronx, a contemporary Swiss-born artist has inspired dialogue and communion with a reconstituted Italian Communist Marxist from the 1920s.  The relationships forged with this project will resonate long after the plywood comes down. Get up there before it does.

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