The photo below was taken seventeen years later and a continent away. Though there are visual similarities, the statue of Friedrich Engels is being installed in the Marx-Engels Forum in Berlin Mitte, and remains on view to this day. The statue below, like the man depicted, have become cannon fodder. Interestingly, the minaret below has a secular equivalent in the GDR-built Berliner Fernsehturm above.
From Sibylle Bergemann's series A Monument 1975-1986,
on view at LACMA's Two Germanys: Cold War Cultures.
Below is another pairing; Bergemann's photo of the monument leaving the Baltic island of Usedom, en route to its installation, and Robert's picture of me from this past summer. There was a small cadre of us Communists, patiently waiting our turn to have a picture taken.
Bergemann's photo is being used to advertise LACMA's show, and I expect it's meant to foreshadow the demise of the GDR. More recently Bergemann's work has benefited from "Ostalgie" (a conflation of the German words for East and nostalgia) though her original intent was to document her friend, sculptor Ludwig Engelhardt's construction of the monument.
On a tangentially related topic, I find it a bit curious that positive comments about political art are usually couched with a phrase that most political art sucks. Ed Winkleman's recent praise of Emily Jacir's Where We Come From begins:
"As anyone who's read here long knows, I hold a low opinion of most so-called political art. To use art to advance a political agenda, per se, always compromises the output in my view."Marshall Astor begins his praise of Laith al-Amiri begins:
"Today, most political art lacks relevance, it’s become forum for culture jamming remixes from over-educated 1st Worlders who think they know what’s best for folks on the other side of things."An hominem, anyone? Though I already stated it in my recent Two Germanys post, it's worth restating that all art is created in political and social contexts. For the artists of the GDR, one could paint in the state-sanctioned social realist style, work in secret, outside the system, emigrate, or go to jail: one can address their context, or turn away. As the Mahābhārata tells us, one must accept the ramifications and responsibility of both action and inaction.
So on one hand, there seems to be a risk of making art that's less than it could be by staking out a political position; on the other hand there is the risk of coming across as a bit like Leni Riefenstahl, making beautiful art while blithely ignoring the political context.
As in the case of Laith al-Amiri's recently destroyed monument to the Bush shoe-thrower Muntadhir al-Zaidi, artists (in LA) can create and work "outside the system" like this this this or this, or install public works of art through the sanctioned channels like the Department of Cultural Affairs (as long as they're willing to propose something akin to a medium-sized Peter Shire).