Monuments Now at Socrates

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday October 1, 2020

As monument-toppling has become a belated cultural signifier, even more so given the BLM / anti-trump / and COVID-19 protests, one of NYCs most reliable cultural weathervanes has again risen to the task. Currently at Socrates Sculpture Park, in Long Island City, Queens, Monuments Now, curated by the park’s director of exhibitions, Jesse Wilcox, suggests that artists have been fighting the fight long before it began making news above the fold. Above: Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House by Jeffrey Gibson; photo by Scott Lynch

Introduced by Nona Faustine’s billboard at the entrance, In Praise of Famous Men No More, the show asks, “What next?” What will replace the broken bronze and stone replicas of fallen figures? And whose land are these public parks for anyway? Writing in the New York Times, Jillian Steinhauer says, “Local governments have begun to respond by mostly commissioning new statues in the old figurative model. Some artists and art organizations are, thankfully, testing out more radical ideas. Foremost among them is Philadelphia’s Monument Lab,” she continues, “whose founders, Paul Farber and Ken Lum, in a recent Artforum piece, proposed reimagining monuments “as a continuation” rather than an endpoint of history, “as the bridge between what happened and how time falls forward” and “a site of struggle, but also of possibility.”

That could be a thesis statement for “Monuments Now,” which spotlights the works of artists who, rather than planning for posterity, are cultivating a sense of open-ended possibility.”

Armed with this useful background info, visitors to Monuments Now can literally ingest a hearty helping of art/culture/activism that might re-balance a widespread mood of uncertainty. Just inside the gates is is Paul Ramírez Jonas’s Eternal Flame; (2020). This monument, a tower of cast concrete, surrounded by colorful picnic tables, is fitted with communal grills, paying tribute to the importance of social interaction over food. By acknowledging that there is always a lit cooking fire somewhere on this planet, it also reminds us that this place—Queens—is one where mixed communities and identities thrive. Park info states that grilling hours are M-F, 10am to 6pm; no reservations, grills are available on a first come, first-served basis. Above: Paul Ramirez Jonas, Eternal Flame; photo by Scott Lynch

On the big lawn overlooking Hallet’s Cove, artist Jeffrey Gibson, a recipient of a 2019 MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant”, has built a ziggurat paved in psychedelic colors that represents inclusion and diversity. Titled Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House, the massive structure draws from Indigenous Missippian culture, as well as prehistoric architectural forms, activist graphic traditions, and queer performance strategies. Gibson’s intent is to offer a future vision of the world that embraces complexities within collective identity. The artist has also organized a series of performances by Indigenous artists that have been filmed for online public viewing. Left: Performance at Because Once You Enter My House, It Becomes Our House by Jeffrey Gibson; photo by Steven Molina Contreras

According to the press release, Xaviera Simmons’ contribution, The structure the labor the foundation the escape the pause, is composed of sculptural forms – each baring landscapes of text culled from historical documents foundational to racial disenfranchisement in the United States. The works are a monument to promises denied, offering insight into governmental policies that continue to shape the racial caste system we live within presently.

On October 10, Part II, artworks selected from an Open Call will be added to Monuments Now, including work by charter DART subscriber, Daniel Bejar [@dabejar]. Additionally, Part III, The Next Generation, presents a multi-facted monument project collective realized by local Queens high school Students.

Monuments Now will continue in its entirety at Socrates Sculpture Park through March 2021. Live at 32-01 Vernon Boulevard / Long Island City, NY 11106, at the intersection of Vernon Boulevard and Broadway. And Virtual 24/7: FB /SocratesSculpturePark | IG @SocratesPark | Twitter @SocratesPark | #MonumentsNow