Monument Considered: 2020

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday October 28, 2020


Madison Square Park opened its 40th public art installation yesterday with a work by Bronx native, Abigale DeVille (American, b. 1981). The Light of Freedom, an assemblage consisting of found objects, refers to both Lady Liberty’s torch, which was on view in the park from 1876 to 1882, and to the legacy of enslaved peoples in America. Photo above: Andy Romer Photography for Madison Square Park

The work was commissioned by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and chief curator at the Madison Square Park Conservancy, in the wake of tumultuous political events this year, and the protests erupting across the nation after the killing of George Floyd.

DeVille has filled her torch with a well-worn school bell, in her words, a “call to action,” and the arms of mannequins, beseeching viewers. The scaffold, which prevents access symbolically as well as physically, also recalls a work site, an insistent image in the urban landscape. The artist gold-leafed the metal bars, a reference the politically contested line, "I lift my lamp beside the golden door" of Liberty's inscription.

DeVille has described working on this piece: “In my research, I have found that the first Blacks to be brought to New York City were eleven Angolans in 1626. That makes people of African descent the second-oldest group of settlers in New Amsterdam, after the Dutch. Unfortunately, history has erased the contributions and victories of this group. I want to make something that could honor their lives and question what it means to be a New Yorker, past, present, and future.”



Above: The artist’s proposal for Light of Freedom in Madison Square Park, New York, 2020 (left) and H.T. Anthony, Publisher, Olympic Theatre, Hand Torch, Madison Square, c. 1876, The New York Public Library (right)

There is more to explore within the cage-like structure that ensconses DeVille's lamp. What looks like flames are actually mannequin arms reaching for the heavens (both a “blue wave” and the hottest part of a fire, according to the New York Times), beckoning viewers and representing the crushing manpower required to build the country. The arms serve simultaneously as a readable symbol of oppression, but even then, according to the artist, they grasp towards the future.

The Light of Freedom is on view at the south end of the park through January 31, 2021. 

Madison Square Park Conservancy is hosting an online Webinar Conversation on Tuesday, November 10 from 11am to Noon, with Artist Abigail DeVille and Gonzalo Casals, Commissioner, NYC Department of Cultural Affiars. Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman Chief Curator, will introduce the program. Info



Tonight in San Francisco, The Minnesota Street Project opens Monument, a group show of works by artists represented by galleries in the art coop—with additional works from San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery, Guerrero Gallery, and Creativity Explored. The exhibition explores the various ways artists reference literal and metaphorical monuments within their practice, as detailed in the press release. Above: One of the artists represented in Monument is Nick Makanna, whose work was recently seen at Guerrero Gallery.

The show takes inspiration from Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “The Monument,” in which the narrator, in conversation, describes a specific but unseen monument in detail, noting the shambolic, temporal nature of its construction, while revealing its aspirational qualities in more anthropomorphic terms.

The monument’s an object, yet these decorations,
carelessly nailed, looking like nothing at all,
give it away as having life, and wishing;
Wanting to be a monument, to cherish something.

Bishop’s poem inspired the galleries to consider the notion of a monument more abstractly, and how works of art and metaphorical concepts of monuments are interconnected. Their responses yielded works [across various mediums] that draw ingenious and often irreverent references to traditional—and often problematic—notions of monument, as well as works that consider the structure of a monument using imaginary terms to examine formal possibilities.

Monument, installed in the Project’s atrium, continues through December 12 [Info], and can also be viewed online at Minnesota Street Project Adjacent. Info


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