Monuments have problems.

We’ll call them bronzewashing.

a definition



the physical ease of washing smooth,

sturdy, long-lasting materials like

bronze of any evidence of conflict,

and the speed with which this is done

after protest

the erasure of conflict or the

presentation of consensus around a

historical narrative, whether or not

that consensus exists (oftentimes, it

does not)



in s

earch of alternatives

Discursive proposals, partipatory

projects, temporary sculptures,

mobile pieces, additive interventions,

and performative protests produced

by contemporary artists, activists,

and public historians in the past two

decades demonstrate alternatives to

the pitfalls of traditional


A subset of these works, presented

here, demonstrate physical and

conceptual interventions made onto

monuments that can be replicated by

future publics and practitioners.



As the third installment of the

Royal Society of Art’s Fourth

Plinth Programme, British sculptor

Rachel Whiteread casted the empty

fourth plinth of London’s Trafalgar

Square in translucent resin. Rather

than create a specific statement,

Whiteread solidified the absence of

a monumentalized figure.

As part of Monuments for the

USA, curated by Ralph Rugoff at

the Wattis Institute of Contemporary

Art in 2005, Italian artist Enrico

David envisioned a monument to

Pepper LaBeija of the Harlem drag

ball House of LaBeija, exemplifying

the creation of monuments to

marginalized figures




Karyn Olivier, a Philadelphia-based

sculptor, created The Battle is

Joined as part of Monument Lab’s

2017 exhibition in Philadelphia.

Sheathing the existing Battle

of Germantown Monument in

a mirrored skin, Olivier took

a monument which no longer

represented the histories of the

neighborhood’s diverse residents

and made it reflect their images on

its surface.

Tatzu Nishi worked with New Yorkbased

Public Art Fund in 2012 to

encase the existing monument to

Christopher Columbus in Columbus

Circle in a living room, constructed

six stories in the air and furnished

with a combination of Nishi’s

own designs and furniture from

local businesses. The living room

demonumentalizes the sculpture,

turning it into a piece of decorative

art at eye level with the audience.

The scaffolding was also used by

the Parks Department to perform

long-delayed preservation efforts.




As part of Monuments for the USA,

Sam Durant’s Proposal for White

and Indian Dead Monument

Transpositions suggested the

recontextualization of existing

monuments to indigenous peoples

and white settlers killed throughout

American history onto two sides

of the National Mall, creating a

hyper-visible sort of scatter plot

demonstrating the racialization

of American remembrance and




Hank Willis Thomas’ All Power

to the People, a contribution to

Monument Lab’s 2017 exhibition

in Philadelphia, monumentalized

the civil rights era and the Black

Panther Party. The sculpture was

placed alongside a statue of Frank

Rizzo, whose legacy as a former

mayor and police commissioner is

tied to the violent policing of the

city of Philadelphia’s black and

queer communities.

Canadian artist Ken Lum, who

would later co-found Monument

Lab, proposed a double-sided

take on American history for

Monuments for the USA. He

proposed two side-by-side galleries

in which visitors who chose a dark

hallway would find eventually find

themselves surrounded by positive

interpretations of history, while

those who chose a lighted path

would find themselves in a negative

history room.




Janine Antoni’s contribution to

Monuments for the USA, entitled

Monument to Go, consisted

of an Anthora coffee cup, cut

up and reshaped into a work

that celebrated ephemeral but

significant objects, immigrant

contributions to the US, and

everyday spaces. She specifically

sited this work in “any diner” in the

United States.

As part of public art exhibition

Culture in Action in 1993, Suzanne

Lacy and a Coalition of Chicago

Women collected the names of

100 important women of Chicago,

and mounted them on boulders

throughout the Loop. The work,

entitled Full Circle, then included

an awards ceremony to honor the

women represented.




As part of Monument Lab’s 2017

exhibition in Philadelphia, artist

Mel Chin created Two Me, which

placed visitors on top of two marble

plinths, making the audience the

monument. This piece has since

traveled to Toledo, OH, where it

made a new public monumental

and puts forth the concept of a

mobile monument.

As part of the Fourth Plinth

Programme, Antony Gormley’s

project One and Other used a

cherry picker to transport 2,400

people to the top of the plinth

to stand on the platform one at

a time for an hour each for the

entire duration of the 100-day





Throughout 2016 and 2017, East

Harlem Preservation and Black

Youth Project 100 staged highly

visual protests of New York’s

monument to J. Marion Sims. They

used performance art, spoken word

poetry, and lots of red paint to

highlight the pain Sims inflicted on

his victims.

As part of a two-artist show with

Kenya (Robinson), Doreen Garner

performed Purge, a one night

performance in which several black

women performed invasive surgery

on a silicone likeness of J. Marion

Sims. New York’s monument to the

pre-Civil War physician has come

under fire for its representation of a

man who rose to fame by operating

on enslaved women without consent

nor anesthesia.



These proposals, temporary

sculptures, and interventions sought

to represent diverse publics, present

complicated, messy views of public

space, celebrate vernacular forms

and concepts, and dematerialize

existing monuments and monument


Often, they foregrounded public

participation and/or feedback, and

eschewed the permanence and stasis

of traditional monuments in favor of

temporality and reflexivity.

In doing so, they suggest that

monuments need not be unchanging

objects, that existing monuments

can and should move and change

to reflect new publics, and that new

monuments made to be permanent

should in the very least represent

complex understandings of the

public, public space, and power.




Erika-Doss Memorial-Mania 2010

Marita-Sturken Tangled-Memories 1997

Kirk-Savage Monument-Wars 2009

Suzanne-Lacy Mapping-the-Terrain 1994

Dolores-Hayden The-Power-of-Place 1995


Mary Jane Jacob, curator Places with a Past Charleston, SC 1991

Mary Jane Jacob, curator - Culture in Action Chicago, IL 1993

Ralph Rugoff, curator Monuments for the USA San Francisco & New York 2005-06

Paul Farber & Ken Lum, curators Monument Lab Philadelphia 2015, 2017

Gabriel Florenz & David Everitt Howe White Man on a Pedestal 2017

further reading

Jeremy Lee Wolin

taken from a senior thesis

in American Studies,

Brown University, 2019

created for Tiny Exhibits,

John Nicholas Brown Center

for Public Humanities

and Cultural Heritage