Category: Public art

Famous Los Angeles Mural Destroyed

A crime against art has been committed in the city of Los Angeles. The famous outdoor mural, Ed Ruscha Monument, by Kent Twitchell has been destroyed by mindless bureaucrats, who had it painted over for some inexplicable reason.

The six stories tall mural painted in acrylic, was created between the years 1978-1987, and was located on a building that presently houses the U.S. Department of Labor. At the moment it’s unclear who ordered the mural destroyed - a harebrained civil servant connected to the Labor Department or a local imbecilic contractor responsible for the building’s upkeep. Either way, someone must pay dearly for the deliberate obliteration of one of L.A.’s most famous murals, and Twitchell has announced plans to file a lawsuit, an action every artist should support.

Quoting the informative Los Angeles Times article on the willful destruction, “Works of public art are protected by law, including the federal Visual Artists Rights Act.” The conservationist who had been working on the mural prior to its pointless trashing, Nathan Zakheim, said “creators of murals typically must be given 90 days to respond before a work can be destroyed.” Twitchell was given no such warning, and there’s no doubt federal law was broken when the famous mural was painted over. But who will be held accountable for this crime? L.A.’s artists must hold the city liable for this assault against art and demand full funding for the re-painting and restoration of Twitchell’s mural. If the guilty party is allowed to escape justice, then every single mural in the city of Los Angeles is in peril.

Otis College of Art and Design refers to Otis Alumni, Kent Twitchell, as “one of the most respected and recognized outdoor urban muralists in the world.” That is unquestionably true, but the nitwit pen pusher responsible for ordering the mural destroyed apparently suffers from a lack of understanding and respect for art - a mindset common to barbarians everywhere. I’m calling for a vigorous defense of Kent Twitchell, and by extension every muralist across the United States.

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UPDATE 4/8/2016: In 2008 Twitchell won a $1.1 million lawsuit against the U.S. Government for the destruction of his Ed Ruscha Monument. On June 11, 2015 the L.A. Downtown News reported that Twitchell currently has plans to recreate a revised Ruscha mural in the downtown Los Angeles Arts District.

The Failures of Public Art

Sculptor and curator of public art, Thomas Powell, wrote the following essay titled, Why Public Art Sucks - And How It Can Be Improved. In his critique he discusses the failings of modern American public art, and enumerates the reasons for its collapse. Powell asserts that a major cause of the breakdown in public art is that it must compete with the overwhelming and ubiquitous presence of commercial advertising, but he also examines the bureaucratic control mechanisms that are a part of public art funding, and the absence of a larger social vision on the part of artists. Powell’s essay came to me by way of Mat Callahan’s quarterly newsletter of music, art, and philosophy, available at:

“Across America for the past quarter century or more, municipalities, counties, states, public institutions and universities have taken it upon themselves in the spirit of humanism and civic responsibility to become the sponsors of publicly funded visual art. On campuses, street corners, and barrio walls, on billboards, bus stops, and freeway abutments, in derelict downtowns in desperate need of revitalization, public artworks have sprung up like cultural mildew. Large freestanding metal behemoths, colorfully painted wall murals, ceramic mosaics, foam and fiberglass installations, neon bolted to architectural concrete, lithographs lining the hallways of county courthouses, glass baubles casting rainbows about the sunlit atriums of mental health wards: what hasn’t been commissioned? What medium and what style of our pluralistic post-modern art smorgasbord has not been purchased for public display with public moneys?

A handful of these public artworks are great, no doubt about it. A larger handful are unbelievably atrocious. But the vast bulk of this public adornment is merely mediocre. As the dust of each new commission settles, as the patina of newness dims, the fate of public artwork in America is to relentlessly fade into the background grime of the surrounding urban wallpaper. Can this truly be the case? I invite you to do your own mental inventory of the public artworks in your town.

The One Percent for Art funding mechanism attached to public capital improvement projects at the local and state level was hailed as a brilliant strategy to capture some public funding for art when it was first conceived and implemented in the 1970’s and 1980’s. In the several decades prior to that, funding for public art in the United States had completely dried up. The federal government buttoned its purse to everything except cemeteries and war monuments when it got out of the W.P.A. funding business at the onset of WW II. State and local governments had no previous experience in art patronage. Religious sources were non-existent as Catholics were not erecting cathedrals while Protestant have little use for art. But by the mid-1970¹s, the most critical cause for the poverty of public art in the preceding half century was the popularity of architectural modernism which eschewed the adornment of buildings. Thus, the one percent for art funding strategy for artists and for the visual art world was indeed a step in the right direction.

The idea steadily gained momentum, and by the 1990’s one percent (even 2%) for art mechanisms had become institutionalized across the land. A decade further, artistic careers have been financed, thousands of public artworks have been commissioned, millions of dollars in public investment have been spent. This sounds remarkably like a success story, not a suction, but the truth is that after three decades, this well-intentioned vision has plateaued into more of the same mediocrity. Public art is in desperate need of a new vision, and new blood at the helm. While complaints from artists, administrators, and the public rebound all over the map, the shortcomings of the entire enterprise actually fall into four main groups.

The first failure of public art in America has been its inability to understand that there are in fact two parallel patronage systems that bring visual art into public awareness. The dominant mode in terms of budget and sheer quantity is advertising. Advertising is a public art. It is the “popular” public art in contrast to “elitist” or “formal” public art. Advertising is free and ubiquitous. In corporate, consumer driven, capitalist America, advertising is a necessary condition. But, in order to be effective, advertising must change, update, and seem forever novel. The attention span of American consumers has been conditioned to be brief. The result on formal public art is that murals and sculptures on street corners look staid; they become dated as soon as the paint dries.

The paradox of this situation is that advertising, “the applied arts,” as a sub-category of art, can be brilliant occasionally, but taken as a whole, it can never be as creative or imaginative a venture as fine arts. Advertising and propaganda follow the visual arts, not the other way around. The pace of production, the unrelenting sales pitch, and the compromises inherent in that form of patronage encourage artist in the advertising profession to steal imagery and concepts from fine artists all the time. Applied arts routinely milks the fine arts without credit or remuneration. A royalty tax on advertising would go a long way to help fund formal public art.

This brings us to the real crux of the matter, the difference in budgets. For every one dollar spent on public art, and this would include all the local, state, and federal subsidies for public art programs, institutions, museums, and opera houses, etc., thousands and thousands of dollars are spent on advertising. The advertising budget for a big box retailer runs ten to twenty-five percent of their annual operating costs or higher. By contrast, public visual art is generally funded by one percent of project cost for capital improvements like new firehouses, parks and roadways. The true lopsidedness of this funding situation is obscene. Public art sucks in many cases because there just isn’t enough of it to form a critical mass. Adding another decimal place, ten percent for art, to its funding source would begin to rectify that. Formal public art is drastically under funded in America.

The second reason public art sucks is because the entire process is controlled by bureaucrats and political appointees, many of whom are complete ignoramuses when it comes to art. Public art programs in most communities are subordinated hierarchically within the Planning Department or within Cultural Affairs. The director of the public art program may hold an art degree, but he answers to the department head above him who is subject to political pressures from above. To keep his ass out of the fire, the director of the PAP does his best to avoid controversy, and so censorship is built into the commissioning process. This is reflected in the call for entries, and the guidelines for submissions. The themes that are chosen for commissions are generally pallid and intended to be non-offensive, politically correct, and please Lord, not controversial.

The selection of the winning entry is done by committee. Rarely is there any critical criteria on who can serve on a selection jury for such juries are assemble under the misguided political expediency of “inclusiveness.” Juries are assortments of well-intentioned members of neighborhood associations, site architects, a representative of the municipal department from which the moneys are attached, artists, tenured art faculty, political appointees, and perennial dilettantes. Few of these souls have ever taken an art appreciation class, have any vision for public art beyond “I know what I like,” or have agreed to make any long-term commitment to serve on consecutive selection juries for five to ten years, or to generally educate themselves about appropriate sites, materials, methods, or public art in any historical or philosophical context.

The selection process is the biggest failure of all public art programs. Decision-making by ignorant, inclusive committees and good public art are mutually exclusive principals which come together only by rare statistical coincidence. The unfortunate general mediocrity of the national collection of public art which has been acquired by cities and hamlets across the nation through this funding mechanism can be attributed first and foremost to the fiasco of entrusting the administration of the program funds to mid-level bureaucrats with no degree or background in art, no concept of collection, no long term vision or goal, and no commitment to maintain or conserve the art which now represents millions of dollars in public investment.

The third problem with public art in America is the general antagonism towards it from architects. The source of the antagonism is that architecture is still wallowing in the fiscal aesthetics of modernism. To the general dismay of its founders, the clients of big architecture embraced the glass and steel ugliness of modernism for the beauty of its bottom line. Post-modern architecture has yet to attract clients in numbers to return to the opulent budgets of yesteryear. While individual architects may like public art, and may collaborate effectively with commissioned artists, as a rule, architects are taught to believe that architecture is the highest art form, which of course it is, when its done their way. Historically, architects have chosen the artists to adorn their buildings. In this manner, the architect controlled the entire project budget, created the interior and exterior spaces for art to hang, dictated the form and style of accompanying artwork, and thus reduced the role of artist to artisan. By contrast, one percent public art moneys are withheld from project budgets to be administered by art bureaucrats. What self-respecting architect would want some schlock public artwork appended upon his opus? Therefore, architects always get themselves appointed to the art selection jury, and they try to nix any art proposals they consider aggressive or challenging. Often, architects figure out how to rip off the public art money to divert into their own budget for landscaping or fancy railings. A fair warning to any artist after a public art commission: do not automatically trust the architect. A fair warning to architects: create architectural spaces for artists.

The final reason why public art sucks today has to reside with the artists, themselves. Artists in the United States are educated in art schools, the “best” ones are generally affiliated with universities and private colleges. The education offered by university art schools across America is sorely deficient in two fundamental categories. Art schools do not teach student artists how to make a living as artists simply because art professors do not make a living as artists, they don’t have a clue how to do it, they never have done it, so therefore they don’t instruct it, even offer it, or consider it relevant. While this situation is not without its pathos, it does clear the field of art students of mild persuasion who are not willing to starve after graduation to pursue the vocation. Students wishing to make a living as artists generally must attend design colleges of applied arts.

What is by far a more flagrant dereliction of instruction is that art schools do not teach the philosophy of art. Instead, art schools teach art theory which throughout much of the 20th Century has consisted largely of hyperbole and good psychedelics. All of us have little bits and pieces of philosophy inherited from our grandmother, personal prejudices, and lessons picked up along the way from the school of hard knocks, but this hardly represents a cohesive, rigorous philosophy. To do philosophy, to organize the observable world into a rational epistemology requires a particular quality of mind that is rare in the human species. Fortunately for artists, there have been a significant number of these thinkers who have devoted their faculties towards art. So where are the art professors who have made any effort to collect these wisdoms? Where is the course curriculum for a philosophy of art? The relevant question here is, how can any civilization hold any grand vision for a public art that defines it as a civilization (as all previous civilizations have been defined by their art) if it possesses no guiding philosophy of art? Public art in America sucks because we the artists are philosophical cripples, full of agendas, full of theories, but with no larger vision.

If you are an artist reading this, especially one who has attempted or participated in public art, I know you will recognize your own experience as I’ve described it. Do you care? If so, what can be done to significantly alter the situation to favorably benefit artists, and to create a meaningful and visionary public art? Strategies and methodologies for success can be invented or borrowed. The important thing is to create vision. The first part of that vision must be to raise the funding of public art by a hundredfold and more. Nothing under the regime of capitalism has stature if it is not expensive. For public art to be validated, it must consume more of the public purse. Therefore, art must figure out how to tax the big ticket items of advertising, religion, architecture, government, education, health care, science, sports, and especially militarism. Art projects must siphon off significant portions of these budgets. That would dramatically change the world!

The economics of vision will require the activism and dedication of artists and their supporters. Nobody will hand this over to us. We must each develop our own positive vision of the future, a vision both personal and collective. This allows us as artist to operate out of familiar self interest towards societal goals. Collectively as artists, we possess both the moral credentials as educated culture workers, and the necessary skills as technicians to project into the public domain the future we envision for our families, our species, and our mother earth. We can be critics, visionaries, and educators just as readily as we can be shills for the agenda of a patron. Vision requires philosophy. One cannot be an effective visionary without knowing the thoughts on the subject of those who preceded us. This does not mean mere opinion - though that is useful - but a deeper understanding of how visual art stimulates the individual psyche or how it can define the cultural identity of a society.

Why has every human population as far back as we can excavate found it necessary to produce some form of visual art expression? Why is art so central to the human identity? These are the macro questions that beg investigation in the education of young artists. A profound and courageous philosophy of art is the road to the empowerment of artists as a profession and as a class. It represents one energetic path along which to steer global civilization towards a saner course. Public art has long been the propaganda arm of those who have ruled, sometimes benignly, sometimes through terror. It does not have to be that way.”

The Bush Bust & Free Fall

2001 to ?

[ The Commando in Chief, 2001 to ? ]

The National Guard Association of the United States commissioned a life-sized portrait bust of President Bush from famed artist, Charles Parks, who for the last 50 years has created over 500 sculptures in the realist tradition.

In a special February 9th ceremony at the National Guard Building in Washington DC, Park’s bronze statue memorializing Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard was presented to the Commander in Chief. However, the president made no comment about the bust at all, other than to say that the artist “caught me before my hair went gray.” I wouldn’t expect Mr. Bush to have anything intelligent to say about the piece of art - which portrays him in a flight suite - but the president also seemed reticent to discuss the military service he was being lauded for. Quoting the Washington Post, “Bush’s service may still be a bit of a sore subject for him, though. He seemed no more eager to talk about it yesterday then he did in his 2004 reelection campaign, when critics questioned whether he manipulated his guard service to avoid having to serve in Vietnam.”

The truly fascinating thing about this story concerns the pedestal the president’s portrait bust sits on. Since Bush’s presidency ends in 2009, the inscription on the base should read “2001 - 2009.” Interestingly enough however, the engraved date actually reads, “2001 - .” Apparently the ending year of the administration was left off the artwork’s base by those who commissioned the bust - since no one knows the exact date when the free falling president will be impeached and convicted.

What’s Left? Who’s Left?

If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution is a quote long attributed to anarcho-communist activist, Emma Goldman. Taken up by some on the modern U.S. left as a catchphrase against artless bureaucratic organizing, the slogan has also been the organized American left’s feint at indicating concern for cultural matters. In point of fact, the saying brings to attention the organized U.S. left’s impoverishment when it comes to cultural output and appreciation for the arts.

On January 9th, 2005, I wrote a web log post titled The Gates: Good For Nothing, in which I castigated the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude and ridiculed their Gates project as nothing more than a multi-million dollar art boondoggle. I was careful to quote the two con-artists, believing that their own words would expose them: “We do not create messages. We do not create symbols. We create works of art. All works of art are good for nothing.” That statement is unquestionably hostile to the artists who have over the years made contributions to the process of social change, so it might come as a surprise to some that one radical left organization, the maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), published a tract praising The Gates and the pair who created them. Artist Dred Scott wrote the article, Remembering The Gates, for the May 1st 2005 edition of the RCP’s newspaper. In his article, Scott said the following:

“Christo and Jeanne-Claude have confidence in ordinary people’s ability to grasp and enjoy contemporary art - at least the kind of work that they make. And their confidence is well founded. A million people saw ‘The Gates’ and clearly the overwhelming majority who saw it enjoyed the work and grasped the essence of it.”

Since the artists themselves made it clear that “all works of art are good for nothing” and that The Gates have no meaning - just what is this “essence” Scott thinks people have grasped? Again, Christo and Jeanne-Claude were quoted as saying, “The Gates, we don’t do it for the people, we do it for us.” Scott went on to write, that:

“Art like ‘The Gates’ is a harbinger of what is possible when artists dare to dream the impossible and then make their dreams real. Christo and Jeanne-Claude are artists with real heart. They push the envelope, even their own envelope, of what art can be. ‘The Gates’ expanded new ground for art.”

That’s quite a statement coming from a party that has long upheld Chairman Mao’s “correct line” pertaining to culture and art. In his Selected Works, Vol. III - Talks at the Yenan Forum on Literature and Art, Mao wrote the following:

“In the world today all culture, all literature and art belong to definite classes and are geared to definite political lines. There is in fact no such thing as art for art’s sake, art that stands above classes, art that is detached from or independent of politics.”

Scott and the RCP can try to reconcile Mao’s views with Christo’s publicity stunt, but the attempt smacks of opportunism to me. In a quest to become culturally relevant, the RCP set out to do what every elite art magazine, fawning postmodernist dilettante and corporate news commentator has already done - give a stamp of approval to The Gates.

And just who is this Dread Scott? His claim to fame was a 1989 installation piece titled What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?, created while he was a student at the Chicago Art Institute. The school publicly exhibited the installation which consisted of nothing more than an American flag placed on the ground in front of a ledger - with viewers encouraged to step on the flag in order to write their comments in the book. I didn’t like the piece then and I like it even less today - since I’ve developed an extremely low tolerance for postmodern antics designed to generate publicity for careerist artists.

Scott and Christo are birds of a feather, they share the same artistic philosophy despite one being a communist and the other a capitalist. Both have abandoned skill, craft, and time honored techniques in favor of blatant pranksterism. In this topsy turvy world they are considered revolutionaries - while I’m chastised as a reactionary for refusing to put aside my “old fashioned” paint brushes and canvases. Be that as it may I’m not too worried, because as someone famous once said: “History will absolve me!”

Mural Masterwork: Myth of Tomorrow

An important antiwar mural painted in Mexico by famed Japanese modern artist, Taro Okamoto (1911 - 1996), has been rediscovered after thirty five years. In Spanish the work is known as Mito del Mañana (Myth of Tomorrow), and in Japanese, Ashita no Shinwa - but like all great works of art, Okamoto’s painting speaks a universal language. The gigantic mural depicts the exact moment of an atomic bomb explosion, with the focus of the work being an anonymous human reduced to skeletal form and burning under an atomic sun.

Okamoto’s mural was originally painted in the lobby of what was to be a high-rise luxury hotel in Mexico City, but the developer encountered financial troubles that prevented the building’s completion. Okamoto’s wall painting, dismantled and put into storage, eventually disappeared - and it remained missing until just recently. In 2003 the mural was found abandoned in a yard for building materials located in a suburb of Mexico City.

The Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum in Japan sent a team of restorers to Mexico to evaluate the condition of the artwork, and found that it was suffering minor damage. Calling the piece “Taro’s magnum opus”, the institution obtained the rights to the mural earlier this year. The mural has been shipped to Japan where museum staff and experts began restoration work in July, 2005. Okamoto’s mural will eventually be placed on public display at the end of 2006.

The Taro Okamoto Memorial Foundation for the Promotion of Contemporary Art released a statement that in part read, “Okamoto believed that the myths of the future develop at moments of cruelty and tragedy. This mural speaks from his deepest thoughts, from his heart.” While the world’s first atomic bombing of civilian population centers occurred in August 1945 when the U.S. devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear fire… it would be a mistake to see Okamoto’s artwork as fixated on those terrible events. Rather, his striking mural is a warning to all humanity, and the message is more relevant today than ever before. That we’ve grown accustomed to living with a nuclear Sword of Damocles hanging above us all is really the core meaning of the mural’s title - and our continued apathy only assures that tomorrow is indeed a myth.

Painted between 1968 and 1969 and measuring some 18 feet high by 98 feet long, Okamoto’s artwork is a powerful indictment of war. While it may seem incongruous that such a disturbing and forceful work of art would appear in the lobby of a luxury hotel, one must remember that Mexican restaurants, hotels, commercial and government buildings once made wall space available for the display of controversial large-scale public artworks.

The Mexican Muralist Movement led by greats David Alfaro Siqueiros, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, set the standards for a progressive and internationalist school of art. The radical and populist artworks of these masters and the many others who worked shoulder to shoulder with them, enhance public space all across Mexico. There’s absolutely no doubt that Taro Okamoto was inspired and influenced by the remarkable Mexican school of socially conscious artists, and the discovery and restoration of his mural is cause for celebration.

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UPDATE: This article was edited on 4/8/2016 to reflect recent developments regarding Mr. Okamoto’s monumental mural. At the time of my original post, a home for the mural had not yet been found, and few photos of it were available. Since then the mural was installed in the Shibuya railway station in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. The video at the top of this article showing the mural in situ at the train station was made by Japanese YouTube member, yurukulab.

I wrote a second update regarding Okamoto’s Myth of Tomorrow mural, which can be read here.

California Public Art Under Attack

Right-wing activists from the organization, Save Our State (SOS), have called for the removal of a public monument called Danzas Indigenas located in the Metrolink Station in Baldwin Park, California. Joseph Turner, executive director for the anti-immigrant group, plainly stated his organization’s opinion of the monument, “we will not tolerate its anti-American message. This is not art. This is not freedom of expression. This is government-sanctioned sedition.” SOS activists are calling for and organizing a noon time demonstration at the monument on Saturday, May 14th, 2005, and they are demanding that the monument be altered - if not removed.

What exactly has drawn the ire of these self-proclaimed guardians of the American way? Designed in 1993 for the MTA by famed Chicana artist Judith F. Baca, the monument bears several engraved statements upon it, one reads “It was better before they came”, and the other “This land was Mexican once, was Indian always - and is, and will be again.” SOS calls the monument “propaganda” from “radical organizations” who wish to “return the Southwestern US to Mexico.” The organization’s website declares that California’s cities have been turned into “Third World cesspools as a result of a massive invasion of illegal aliens.” SOS has threatened that if the “offensive passages” are not removed from Baca’s artwork before the American Independence weekend, they “will take additional steps to ensure that the passages are removed.” That sounds like an open appeal for vandalism and property destruction to me. For all the hot air about being patriotic defenders of freedom and the American way, the SOS organization sounds much like the fundamentalist Taliban, who because of their racial and religious prejudices blew up the magnificent 2000-year-old statues of Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan.

Left-wing activists have responded with their own calls for a counter-protest. Groups like the Southern California Human Rights Network, the International Action Center and its Committee in Defense of Immigrant Workers, the International Socialist Organization and many others I’m sure, will counter-demonstrate to demand “Full Rights for Immigrants”, an “End to Racist Attacks on Immigrants and Mexicans”, and the protection of “Indigenous Heritage”. But where is the left’s defense of artistic freedom? What the left and right seem not to understand in this escalating battle over Baca’s Danzas Indigenas is that this is more a struggle over art and censorship than of the politics of race, national identity and borders. One side wants to censor or destroy an artwork for political reasons while the other side counters with its own political arguments that have nothing to do with the rights of artists - both ignore the underlying primary issue - an artist’s freedom to create and display a public work of art.

Judith F. Baca is an internationally respected artist, one of America’s acclaimed contemporary muralists, and the Founder and artistic director of the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) located in Venice California. As a socially aware artist engaged in community art projects for many decades, she is a highly regarded and cherished member of the Los Angeles community. Without hesitation, I wish to express my total and unconditional solidarity with Ms. Baca, and I urge all other working artists to do the same. If reactionaries succeed in censoring one artist, then all stand in peril.

In her own defense Baca has posted an artist’s statement on the SPARC website where you can also see a photo of the monument she created. The great irony of the SOS attack on Baca’s artwork is over the passage “It was better before they came” - which SOS misinterprets as a Mexican’s racist view of Whites. However, Baca makes clear in her statement that “While this group has cast this artwork as part of a Reconquista movement it is in fact neither advocating for the return of California to the Mexican government nor saying ‘it is better before they came’. This statement was made by a white local Baldwin Park resident who was speaking about Mexicans. The ambiguity of the statement was the point. About which ‘they’ is the anonymous voice speaking? Our capacity as a democracy to disagree and to coexist is precisely the point of this work. No single statement can be seen without the whole, nor can it be removed without destroying the diversity of Baldwin Park’s voice. Silencing every voice with which we disagree is profoundly un-American.”

For those who understand artistic expression to be a sacred human right - for those who appreciate public art as part of democratic culture, for those who recognize the despoilers and abusers of art as the shocktroops of an incipient fascism - stand up to defend Danzas Indigenas and the right of artists to free and unfettered self-expression. Please attend the peaceful and legal demonstration in defense of these right to be held at the monument on Saturday May 14th, from noon until 2 pm, at the Metrolink Station, 3875 Downing Ave., Baldwin Park, California 91706. (Map)

Hans Haacke Salutes Red Rosa

I first heard about Hans Haacke in the early 1980’s. Born in Cologne, Germany, his conceptual art is well known for its caustic, razor sharp examinations of unchecked power and money. This month the US-based artist received a commission from the German government to produce a work of art commemorating the revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg. Berlin authorities have made 260,000 euros (345,000 dollars) available to Haacke for the design and construction of his Luxemburg monument, which is scheduled for completion sometime in late 2006.

Haacke intends to embed immense concrete blocks into the sidewalk around Berlin’s Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, with the giant slabs bearing the writings of Luxemburg. A significant figure in world history, Rosa Luxemburg broke with the Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1918 over its pro-war stance during the first world war. Along with Karl Liebknecht she founded the Spartacist League (which became the German Communist Party).

In January of 1919, the Spartacists attempted to initiate a revolution, but failed. In the government backlash that followed hundreds of Spartacists were murdered, including Liebknecht and Luxemburg. The two martyred leaders became heroes to many German Expressionist artists, with Käthe Kollwitz creating a magnificent woodcut of Liebknecht’s funeral. While artists here in the US wait for our government to commission official monuments dedicated to the Black Slave rebellions of America’s past, we may while away the time (and it is going to be a long time), by reading some books about Hans Haacke available on