Waiting for the “real revolution”

I suspect that real revolution (hardly in the forecast), not just ‘paradigm shift,’ is the only thing that would shake everything up enough to create true alternatives.

Lucy Lippard’s conclusion, in a 2013 Brooklyn Rail article quoted by Whitney in her last response, struck me for multiple reasons. Firstly, it aptly supports Whitney’s argument, with which I fully concur, that one cannot “set aside” “the conversation about wealth disparity and funding issues,” yet that “the results” that came out of Hirschhorn’s Gramsci Monument “were as good as they could be within the confines of the current system.” Secondly, this quote by Lippard directly reminded me of a much earlier conversation in which the critic had been actively involved: the debates, in the 1960s, concerning the revolutionary potential of art.

Of course, in the heady days of May 1968 in France, anti-Vietnam War protests in the US, resistance against dictatorships in Latin America, and other political movements across the world, revolution seemed more than possible. And art was considered by Lippard, among many artists and critics at the time, as fully participating in this widespread drive to “create true alternatives” to an existing system.

As is well known, however, Lippard herself would come to admit, some thirty years later, that art’s attempts to “escape” from the boundaries “imposed by conventional art definitions and contexts” in the 1960s had failed, as had the avant-garde’s utopian drive to “visualise a new world.” “Art was recaptured and sent back to its white cell,” she would conclude in 1995. For all that, she wasn’t ready to give in to unalloyed pessimism, since she granted that “parole is always a possibility.”[1]

A view of Gramsci Monument, 2013. (Image: 16 Miles of String via Flickr)

A view of Gramsci Monument, 2013. Image via 16 Miles of String/Flickr.

Unlike 1960s artists such as Beuys (whom Rocío cites in her second response) or Hélio Oiticica or Robert Filliou (whom I have mentioned in my book on the Deleuze Monument), Hirschhorn has never sought to usher in a new revolution. Sixties terms such as consciousness-raising, personal self-discovery and expression, liberation and emancipation, are not part of his discursive vocabulary. This does not mean, however, that the Gramsci Monument has no “transformative power” (to use a term I already borrowed from Lex in my first response).

Sure, the Gramsci Monument was never conceived either as a portrait of the community or as a form of protest: as Rocío, and other much harsher critics have suggested, Hirschhorn never consulted the residents in terms of the “subject of the monument.” Nevertheless, I agree with Lex that the Gramsci Monument did demonstrate that “it is possible to do something new … and meaningful in this real world that we live in.” And that, surely, can open up onto both personal and collective emancipation and empowerment, can’t it?

It is in this sense that the Gramsci Monument may embody our current predicament. While we may no longer believe in an imminent revolution, I don’t think we should give up altogether. It’s easy to accept the failure of politics since the 1960s, or worse still, to become altogether cynical. The “parole” hoped for by Lippard may be temporary, and art is still kept in check by financial and institutional forces that show no signs of weakening, but it is vital to continue challenging their power.

As for the third, and final reason, I enjoyed Whitney’s reference to Lippard, it relates to what the latter proposes, failing a revolution: “in the meantime,” she entreats us to “Occupy Everything.” When I was writing on Hirschhorn’s Deleuze and Gramsci Monuments in 2013, it was precisely the Occupy movements that were on my mind – a kind of protest that has responded to the crushing limits of our current system in ways very different, as many have observed, from most public forms of dissent in the 1960s and 1970s.


[1] See Lucy Lippard, “Escape Attempts,” in Ann Goldstein and Anne Rorimer (eds.), Reconsidering the Object of Art: 1965-75, exh. cat., Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 1995, pp. 17-38.


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Read more from Growing Dialogue: Gramsci Monument

“How Do People Feel About the Gramsci Monument, One Year Later?” by Whitney Kimball – January 6, 2015

“Real Love, Real Work” by Lex Brown – January 9, 2015

“You can make art with tape” by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado – January 13, 2015

“Critical Transformation” by Anna Dezeuze – January 20, 2015

“Marxist spirit, capitalist reality” by Whitney Kimball – January 23, 2015

“Visibility and Autonomy” by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado – February 5, 2015

“Waiting for the ‘real revolution'” by Anna Dezeuze – February 10, 2015

“A Difficult Work, In Touch with Reality” by Lex Brown – February 13, 2015

“Give-and-takes from Gramsci Monument” by Anna Dezeuze – March 3, 2015

“In search of the authentic” by Rocio Aranda-Alvarado – March 6, 2015

“Art World, Real World” by Whitney Kimball – March 13, 2015

“Parting thoughts on Gramsci Monument” by Lex Brown – March 18, 2015

Growing Dialogue is a series of moderated online debates among thought leaders in social practice.

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