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Thomas Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument at Forest Houses (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

Editor’s Note: With the help of local residents, Thomas Hirschhorn built a public artwork called the Gramsci Monument in the Forest Houses in the Bronx this past summer. From July 1 to September 15, the monument brought a theater, a radio station, lectures, art and computer rooms, and more to the public housing complex. Hyperallergic contributor Arianne Wack visited just before it came down to talk to residents about their experiences with the project.

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Arianne Wack

Arianne Wack is a graduate student at NYU, studying Cultural Reporting and Criticism. She is an alumna of Ringling College of Art and Design, where she studied the finer arts, with a concentration in printmaking. Art and culture aside, she...

11 replies on “In Their Own Words: Forest Houses Residents Consider the Gramsci Monument”

  1. I’m incredibly ambivalent about Hirschorn’s presence in a housing project in the Bronx, or any European artist whose agenda is not entirely transparent. I’m sure it played out fantastically well in his native, ultra rich, ultra white Switzerland or in the salons of Paris, the city where he now lives. Hirschorn has bona fide American street cred, he and his family lived with the working poor in the Bronx. And now he gets to be the darling of Paris for it–they will all ask him with tempered curiosity, “What was it like?” I will credit him with using his wealth and influence to bring art to that housing community and the good will it has since produced, even if it was deeply self-serving.

    1. Completely agree! I would rather hear about people like Tats Cru, who have dedicated their lives to helping the Bronx. They are also from there, as opposed to being outsiders.

      1. While I understand ambivalence toward “not entirely transparent” artists creating work that bleeds into social realms more physically than say, artists who work farther behind the strictly aesthetic line, I am deeply disturbed by the idea that only “insiders” should be allowed to create work addressing the issues or environment that only “insiders” experience. This is not to say that a spotlight on people like Tats Cru is not warranted–it certainly is and should be–but dissent against “outsiders” for the sake of their “outsider-ness”, EVEN IF that outsider is rich, male and white, seems like cherry-picking. I highly doubt that the same argument would ever be made if a poor, black female went into a wealthy neighborhood and created a similar work. As a very poor metaphor, I’d like to use a stone thrown into a lake: Perhaps it is sometimes more important to look at the quality of the waves the stone creates, rather than what kind of stone it was.

        1. That’s because a poor, black female doesn’t bring privilege with her and a sense of white knighting.

          1. Again, it is unclear to me why a prerequisite of work like this has to be a specific socio-economic level. And I mean that seriously; my gut reaction is also that privilege is somehow repellent. I would say “white knighting” certainly is repellent but in this instance, I found nothing to suggest that patronization (if I’m understanding your metaphor correctly) was the case. I think that conflating background with motivation–and perhaps more dangerously, with effect–is a very immediate, and very simplistic, approach. Though I would be interested to hear a specific example otherwise.

          2. @ Awack there are many important white artists in the Bronx, such as Lady K Fever, Michael Kamber, Linda Cunningham and Glenn Fischer, all of whom in their different ways have added to artistic voices to the Bronx and all of whom have been LONG time residents. There have also been European artists like Chantal Heijnen who arrived as “visitors.” The difference is social status. Chantal was not wealthy and actually had made friends and networked in the Bronx before photographing her subjects. Hirschorn has fame and wealth and to ignore that fact coupled with the fact that he gets to slum it in a gritty neighborhood that’s going to burnish his credentials has to be questioned. I mean, why didn’t he do this on same exact installation on Park Avenue, Central Park West or Tribeca–the effect would have been more antagonizing and more effective. The difference? The people in Forest House didn’t have the same kind of “no” that people in Park Avenue, CPW and Tribeca have. Whether they like it or not, whenever a wealthy artist like Hirschorn wants to create a spectacle, places like Forest Park do not have a choice in the matter. Hirschorn if anything demonstrated one of the ugliest cliches of wealthy European Artists: the poor, especially from the new worlds-ESPECIALLY if they are of African descent, make fantastic props.

  2. seems to me we wouldn’t even be having this discussion about the Bronx and art if this exhibit hadn’t happened….

    1. you should educate yourself more often. The Bronx is exploding with an amazing non-hipster art scene. But let me guess, you only know Brooklyn and Manhattan bc that’s art right!? lol…no need to reply, we’re from the Bronx. We wouldn’t understand how cool you must be. lol.

      1. Actually, I’m into all kinds of art, whatever the borough, or state, or country. But you’re absolutely right that I’m not “educated” about art. I’ll go see anything anywhere if it seems cool or interesting, which brought me to the Gramsci exhibit and has brought me to other stuff in the Bronx before. I was just saying that this exhibit brought this debate up, and I think that’s a good thing. It’s getting people thinking about art outside of BK and Manhattan, and getting them thinking about why they weren’t thinking about it until the Gramsci exhibit. I like things that make people think. Like art often does.

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