Monument Without a Hero
Not many people know that there is a Soviet monument standing in the middle of Manhattan. It has been there for over fifty years, still intact, even though two decades have passed since Soviet Union’s demise. The site of this sculpture represents a unique opportunity to be re-imagined for the proposed Cold War Victory Monument.
The bronze statue stands in the gardens of the United Nations. The monument is the work of Evgeniy Victorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974), a preeminent Soviet sculptor of Socialist Realism, a recipient of Lenin and Stalin Prizes. It was a gift from the USSR to then newly built UN Headquarters in New York. Presented in 1959 as a symbol of Russia’s peace-loving policies (three years before the Cuban missile crisis would nearly put the planet on the edge of nuclear war), the sculpture carries an allegorical meaning. Its title derives from the Bible quote (Isaiah 2:4) – “We Shall Beat Swords into Plowshares” – a surprising source for a gift from an atheist State. In spite of its emphatically peaceful message, the statue has a strangely threatening appearance. A violent action is emphasized over a promise of harmony. Indeed, the muscular figure seems ready to crush the viewer with his giant hammer.
It is hard to find a better symbol of the Cold War than this monument. All attributes of Cold War are present: its bombastic propaganda, its sinister double-speak, its masculine impact of brute strength. The worker’s menacing hammer, while not as destructive as a Kalashnikov, still proved to be a fitting tool for building the Berlin Wall, for setting military bases around the globe, and for pounding many nations into submission.
I propose to send the old worker home to Moscow (to the Park of the Fallen Monuments, now known as Museon), together with his menacing hammer. His never finished job – a half-beaten sword – will remain on the original pedestal.
This new incomplete/ruined memorial, a monument without a hero, thus becomes commemoration of victory in the Cold War. The victory is seen as subtraction, as removal of a failed historical alternative, – and as opening the stage for new actions.
Recently, there was a short-lived opportunity to implement my proposal in Moscow, on the site of Museon. In the absence of real bronze figure, I proposed to install a full-size wooden crate, complete with the destination (from: UN, New York to: Museon, Moscow), the description of goods (the statue “We Shall Beat Swords into Plowshares”), and the message (Cold War is Over). Once again, a monument without a hero. Yet here, the sculpture’s suggested presence creates a tension: this monument is displayed and hidden at the same time.
Altogether, these entries confirm the new understanding of monumentality when it addresses complex historical phenomena, such as the Cold War. We don’t have the need for a new Stonehenge (in the words of Clive Dilnot). Instead, more subtle, transitory, almost immaterial gestures should convey the message to increasingly critical and skeptical public.
This project is one of the winners of the public competition for Cold War Monument. A presentation On Monumentality will take place on March 18, 7pm at Storefront for Art and Architecture, 97 Kenmare St, NYC