Politics in American Art



good morning everyone it's such a pleasure to see you all here today I'm not going to give you the entire history of art and politics in America in 45 minutes but what I would like to try to do this morning is to simply sketch for you some of the big issues around the relationship between art and politics so what I'd like to do is to begin with some examples some recent examples in modern and contemporary American art and then take you back to the late 18th century which is the time period that I focused upon for the most part in my research it's a really interesting period for thinking about what citizens mean in terms of the production and experience of art because this was after all a time period in American history when people were just beginning to fathom what a United States of America could possibly mean and the many roles that art could play within that relationship so I will take you back to the late 18th century and I will share with you a little bit of my research on the book project that Jenny just mentioned which is called what statues remember and it explores not the making of art but rather political actions against art actions of political iconoclasm that ordinary people took during the period of the American Revolution now also mention that I realize it's a rather strange thing to be talking about iconoclasm the destruction of art within this gorgeous setting within any museum setting after all museums are designed to curate and protect and preserve and display works of art and I was vividly reminded of this just last week when a museum colleague of mine said to me you know we've got a really fantastic exhibition why don't you bring your students from Delaware up to see it and I said well you know I'm teaching a seminar right now on art and destruction and he took a long breath and he said why don't you wait till next semester and bring your students up to the museum well this is a really good place to begin any discussion about the relationship between art and politics in America perhaps the most obvious connection between art and politics is simply works of art that represent political subject matter and this one is perhaps one of the granddaddy's of them all Washington Crossing the Delaware around the period of the Civil War Emanuel Leutze together with a number of other artists made explicitly political pictures celebrating the events and the histories of the American Revolution and of course this is Lloyd says very famous representation of Washington and his troops crossing the Delaware River on Christmas Eve 1776 about to surprise Hessian troops camped in New Jersey and as you may know it's become an iconic image in American history and American art history numerous artists returned to the subject again and again throughout the 20th century including these really wonderful examples by Jacob Lawrence on the left and Larry rivers on the right now for every artist who paints explicitly political subjects there's another who reflects more subtly on that relationship in a series of mixed-media paintings of the 1950s Jasper Johns asked what do we really see when we look at an American flag do we see a political symbol or do we see an abstract assemblage of lines and colors or do we see both do we vacillate between those two poles now John's interrogated the political work of art in rather subtle ways but many are those artists have tackled that relationship head-on very memorably the guerrilla girls the grill of guerrilla girls were among a number of artists groups during the 1980s who used images to encourage political action in this example they call the tension to the under-representation of work by female artists in major museum collections and exhibitions now this was art in this service of institutional critique and it had its roots in a very long history of visual satire using humor and images to make an explicitly political point it was intended to encourage better representation of female artists in the art world and it was quite effective but around the same time another artists collective asked is art enough this was the question posed and answered in this case by the AIDS activist group gran fury who issued a series of very striking posters designed to call attention to the growing AIDS epidemic and government inaction during the late 1980s now that period marked a watershed moment for art and identity politics but many artists since that time have found whole new ways to interrogate the relationship of art and politics just last April a group of artists in Brooklyn raised a monument to the government whistleblower Edward Snowden more precisely they altered an existing monument that remembered victims of the Revolutionary War namely thousands of American soldiers who perished aboard British ships in New York Harbor working under the cover of night the group installed a bust of Snowden atop a column and a plexiglass frame at the base with the name of Snowden now this made for a rather in Congress and ambivalent tribute but I think that's part of the point there's a certain irony in appropriating a 19th century memorial form in order to celebrate someone in the present the date is really important here April 6th a really specific date this action lasted only one day by the end of the day Park officials were already at work removing the bust and the writing and the artists had specifically designed it so it could be easily removed without any kind of damage to the original monument over the past summer we witnessed other ways of interacting with 19th century political monuments after the horrific massacre nine black churchgoers in Charleston inscriptions in support of the black lives matter movement began to appear on the pedestals of Civil War monuments here's just one example from North Carolina in August and I'm sure you can think of many others that appeared in the media over the past few months these were protests name raised in the name of racial justice and equality and they call attention to the kind of ideological work that public monuments do and parks and squares every day even when we're not really paying attention to them now I think you'll probably agree this makes for a very eclectic assortment of examples but together I think that they help to illuminate the range of questions the range of ways we can think about art and politics does art merely reflect political ideas or can it work to change our minds is it even more powerful can it go to us to political action or produce political ideas is it sometimes not enough as brand furious moreover how can we act politically by remaking art that's already present within the built environment as in Brooklyn or across the American South now these might seem like thoroughly contemporary questions and they are there are many contemporary artists where reckoning very directly with the problem of citizenship right now and these questions also go to the heart of the festival theme what kind of art do people make in an effort to express political belonging political identity political rights at the same time though these are very historical questions ones that go back to the very origins of the u.s. when people across a range of political and social spectrums were first beginning to wrestle with what it meant to be an American citizen and how art could express those ideas now no artist took these questions more seriously than the man you see here Charles Wilson Peale in the immediate wake of the American Revolutionary War he opened a museum of art and science in Philadelphia was known as the Philadelphia Museum or more simply as peals Museum now the location of this museum was very important anyone recognized this building yep very familiar building it's Independence Hall or as it was then called the Pennsylvania State House and for much of the duration of the museum feel occupied the entire top floor for his museum collections so this was a deliberately political location for his museum his intentions were just as ambitious aimed at nothing less than the creation of a space designed to help shape people into American citizens portraiture played a really important role in this along the upper walls of his gallery and you can just about make that out on the right hand side Peale installed rows of portraits and gilded frames portraits that look very much like the one you see here of an American general he'll called these men were these meaning that they were worthy of emulation they were revolutionary generals or statesmen or scientists or politicians and this was an ancient Roman idea went back to the idea that by gazing upon a portrait an example or an exemplar of virtuous character that you too would understand the kind of attributes that made that individual so exceptional and you would model your own behavior upon that individual now interestingly enough this made the process of looking itself into a political activity and as I explored in a recent book and this is my free to attest book photo of the day it was not the only way that looking became important at peels Museum he'll also installed a number of trumped LOI or fool di paintings including the one you see here the staircase group parts of which projected out into the actual room he also included work by his son Raphael Peale including this trompe l'oeil catalog representing an actual catalogue of portraits from the Peale museum and he included this lovely watercolor drawing by a very little-known artist named Samuel Lewis Lewis was a writing master in a drawing master and he made more work like this than any other artist in Philadelphia of the day and when he donated this drawing to the Peale museum he included a frame that had all of the actual papers that were shown in this picture so we called it originals and imitations and he invited audiences to look at these two frames side by side and to decide which was which now we tend to think of trompe l'oeil as art that's intended to deceive the eye and on very rare occasions it does do that but I argued that these pictures served a slightly different purpose to a political purpose at peels Museum and many other galleries where you could find works of art like this trompe l'oeil paintings invited viewers to test their perceptual skills to see if they could discern between truth and illusion to undeceive themselves however awkward that term sounds was a term that 18th century people used a lot to undeceive themselves of the deception before them now on the surface of things these might not seem like political problems but in early national America the ability to detect and explain deception was actually valued as a political skill around 1800 Americans were anxious about the dangers posed by charlatans of all stripes for jurors counterfeiters demagogues even actors within this culture sharp perception was associated with responsible citizenship it was your job to spot someone who is trying to fool you and expose them as a con man within this context Peale's museum can be understood as a space of citizen formation standing before trompe l'oeil pictures engaging the perceptual challenges that they you had the opportunity to perform your visual discernment to show that you had the kind of perceptual chops necessary to function as a good citizen of this new republic so ensure Peale and other artists imagined a very powerful role for art in the early republic they imagined that it could make citizens however ambitious these intentions though they were only as good as the numbers of people that they reached and peels museum attracted a fairly narrow audience it was mostly male mostly white mostly upper and middle incandescently or free had the opportunity to see those portraits at peels Museum to participate in the kind of citizen making processes that I've just described and this paralleled cloud citizenship would be conceptualized and then written into law within the early national period to vote for example you had to be a white male property holder and that really remained the case until about the 1820s when individual states began to loosen up their laws so what did you do if you were a member of a disenfranchised population how did you express your political thoughts surely you had them but how did you enact them and how did you engage with material things in doing that well one subject that's become a great interest of scholars in recent years is the way in which ordinary people took to public spaces to enact their political will people that took to streets and taverns and docks and marketplaces in order to enact their politics out of doors now this happened up and down the eastern seaboard in the decade leading up to the American Revolution as crowds of laboring people came together to protest the taxes that the British Parliament was passing against them so very famously this is the beginning of the rallying cry no taxation without representation now sometimes these protests turned violent very often they involved attacks on material things things that ranged from statues houses portraits and effigies to crates of tea we all remember that and even tavern signs that bore the Kings name or the King's Arms in other words they participated in acts of political iconoclasm of image breaking as I mentioned before this is the research I'm currently doing and I'd like to take you through one particular landscape of colonial iconoclasm the place that you see here the place we now call lower Manhattan and this is how lower Manhattan appeared in 1775 and 1776 according to a British geographer who created this map in this site ordinary people raised and destroyed a series of monuments in acts of political celebration and political protest they included a series of five tall ships masks masks that became known as Liberty poles they were decorated by flags and all kinds of other symbolic imagery and they were raised to celebrate the repeal of a British tax that was called the Stamp Act each pole went up at a public space called the Commons and for those of you who have some familiarity with New York City this is the area that's now occupied by City Hall Park the five Liberty poles were razed and destroyed one after the other across the span of a very turbulent decade from 1766 to 1776 the Stamp Act was really the first act to excite very widespread protests across a range of colonial cities just a few blocks away at the intersection of William and wall street's New Yorkers installed a marble statue of William Pitt the elder of British parliamentarian and as you can see it's now missing its head and its arms it has since about 1777 but it was originally draped in a toga and it was carved in a pose that conjured up the position of an ancient Roman orator again if he no New York City this is about just one block east of where the New York Stock Exchange is today the statue literally occupied the intersection of two streets now the third monument was by far the grandest and it remains the best-known today it was a gilded lead equestrian statue of King George the third it was commissioned together with the Pitt statue to celebrate the support that the King had shown for the colonists at the time that the Stamp Act was repealed so all three of these monuments the Liberty pole and the two statues all served a commemorative purpose and they were away for Colonials in New York to express their Englishness the Royal sculptor arrived with hit in 1770 and it went up on a very tall pedestal at a park called Bowling Green at the very tip of Manhattan now you've heard of this location even if you haven't been there because in 2011 it was the place where the walk Occupy Wall Street movement began before moving up Broadway to Zuccotti Park and eventually to Union Square this is the famous charging bull an icon of Wall Street that now occupies the northern part of the park now the two statues together with the fifth Liberty Pole occupied a roughly triangular urban space for six years between 1770 and 1776 colonial activists the people that the British called rebels but who we remember as the Patriots staged political meetings parades and festivities festivities and the urban spaces around the monuments and in the streets in between and then in the opening salvos of the American Revolution all of these monuments were partially were attacked and either partially or wholly destroyed and acts of iconoclasm now part of my research is looking at those actions but much of it is looking at the afterlife of iconoclasm because those monuments never really went away New Yorkers continued to put up Liberty poles at various parts around the city pits headless body continued to meander around the city for several decades talk about your Halloween Headless Horseman and the king statue which was beheaded quartered and then boiled down into bullets for the American army nevertheless survived in the form of several large fragments that were saved and concealed by Americans loyal to the crown now there's a lot that's fascinating about these histories and in my book I'm exploring examples of English ritual and American historical memory I'm thinking about what it means to paint a statue gold and the importance of the lead that it was created out of but for today I just want to share one little slice of that of that pie during the 19th century the statues destruction was represented again and again by painters and by print makers and it was even restaged by playwrights and by the organizers of civic pageants in that process it became a vital creation story for the city of New York and what I'd like to do is share with you just one example a grand parade from 1909 to show you how this was accomplished let me back up really briefly though to the Year 1770 when the statue arrived it was a huge huge equestrian monument brightly gilded in color in neoclassical and design it was commissioned from an English sculptor named Joseph Wilton who was the most established sculptor working in London at the time and Wilton modeled his subject as you can see here on the antique prototype of Marcus Aurelius a very famous statue that was on the Capitoline Hill in Rome the equestrian statue was a very old form in the creation of art and it was one that sig old political leadership and political benevolence well Wilton cast his statue and led it was extremely heavy it weighed about 4,000 pounds and when it was positioned atop a pedestal some 15 feet above the ground it literally towered over the spectators underneath it also faced a British fort greeting all the ships that entered the harbour across the Atlantic but for the colonists who approached the statue from the direction of Broadway you can imagine what they saw they did not see the face of their sovereign and they saw the butt of his horse and this became increasingly problematic as tensions with Britain began to escalate well if the direction that the Royal statute was facing was rather insulting to New Yorkers so was its placement at Bowling Green this was a place that had long been an area for knocking things around it was quite literally a place for bowling a very fashionable sport at the time but at the time of the Stamp Act protests it became something much more it became a place of radical political protest in 1765 a crowd angered by the Stamp Act gathered uptown at the Commons and they surged down Broadway to the British fort they carried with them one effigy that represented the devil and a second that represented the disgust the despised lieutenant-governor a man named Cadwallader called in reaching the fort where called him was nervously holed up the protesters rattled at the gates and then they went to Bowling Green with the effigies they demolished Colvin's carriage they built a massive bonfire and they fed it with the effigies and that's what you see representing represented here these are watercolors that were a study for a float in the very pray that I'll come back to in just a minute very very curious subject to be represented on a historical float so bowling green was a very troubled political place well before that statue went up on his head of and came down in 1776 and the presence of the statue ensured that this was going to be a very contested place the sculpture quite literally put a face on the British Empire remaking that public space of Bowling Green into a new world class for Yale a place for imperial display it was dedicated in 1770 in a very lavish English ceremony a group of dignitaries paraded in circle around the base of the statue they toasted the health of the king they listened to a band and they watched some cannon fire now let me emphasize that nothing quite like this had ever happened in New York City and yet it was utterly unoriginal the ceremony follow customs that Europeans have been doing for decades just a few years earlier in 1763 Parisians had thrown a three-day party to unveil a new equestrian monument of Louis the 15th a monument that came down during the French Revolution officials paraded to the monument they circled it three times they saluted the figure and they cried long live the king and we can imagine that something very similar happened in New York so this is really helpful to keep in mind as we turn to how the statue was destroyed because even though this destruction would later be understood as an expression of American political identity a moment in a battle for American independence from the very beginning the kinds of rituals that happened in vote fooling Greene were thoroughly English even that action of bringing the statue down here's what happened on July 9th 1776 the citizens of New York gathered alongside the troops of General George Washington at the Commons they were there to hear a public reading of the Declaration of Independence which as you all know had been ratified just five days earlier in Philadelphia after the list of twin eighty-six grievances against King George the third was read aloud the crowd erupted with Azaz then things got belligerent that night a crowd of soldiers and sailors swarmed down Broadway to Bowling Green where they tore the figure of the King from its pedestal now although later depictions would represent that event as the work of a few individuals surrounded by crowds of very well behaved onlookers I can only imagine that that night was very chaotic one bystander said that he saw quote no decent people present the great majority were shouting boys after the figure of the king was heaved to the ground it was desecrated as if it were a real human body one man pounced upon the trunk of the case scratching at its skin to remove flakes of gilding other parts were dragged through the streets in the monarch manner of a common criminal the statue was also decapitated for recalling the fate of the very unfortunate Stuart King Charles the first and some wanted to impale the head on a stake as if to suggest treason instead it was shipped back to London as proof that the rebels meant business was last seen rolling around under the sofa of an English aristocrat in the 1780s I've been trying to find it ever since so if anyone knows of its whereabouts please come see me after this most of the statue though was carted away to a military Depot in Litchfield Connecticut where it was melted down and reshaped into thousands of bullets for the Continental Army one person punned that the Kings troops would have melted Majesty fired back at them but before the parts reached the depot several loyalists in a Connecticut town called Wilton managed to abscond with a few large pieces and they made a point of burying them they hid them under floorboards they buried them in the fields they threw them into bogs and in the 19th century many of the pieces including the ones that you see here began to find their way into 19th century collect into excuse me New York City collections as they were recovered and dug up from all those locations one of them was a surviving tale of the horse and it's become such an iconic reprimand it as one of the 50 objects by which the city remembers its history now in 1776 New Yorkers understood the attack on the royal statue to be precipitated by the reading of the Declaration of Independence clearly they were also hungry for the lead of that royal body led that was desperately needed for ammunition now even though there's a lot that we don't know about what happened at Bowling Green that night and I've often wondered what it feels like to be a part of a crowd destroying a material thing what we can say is that this act of iconoclasm loosely followed a cultural script it reproduced European and in particular English rituals of iconoclasm that had been enacted for decades for example in 1689 a crowd in Newcastle England attacked an equestrian statue of James the second it beat the figure it dragged it through the streets and then it drowned it in a river now those kinds of actions are really interesting because they actually invert the kind of rituals that involve putting a statue up on a pedestal in New York for example the dedication of the Kings statue had involved a very organised series of polite marches speeches and toasts but the nighttime assault at Bowling Green upended that incident of ended that behavior it involved the nighttime swell of people up and at the pedestal whoops and hollers and cheers the clang of tools against metal and eventually the scattering of the parts on the ground now in the years after 1776 only one thing remained Apple Green the pedestal of the Statue they remained there for about 40 years and over time new yorkers came to regarded as a memorial to the revolution itself others proposed putting a new statue there namely a statue of George Washington and that's what's being proposed in this engraving where you see Washington already and pedis on a pedestal in the foreground with the pedestal at Bowling Green in the distance now those kinds of replacements of one statue by another would seem to bring this story to a close and in fact some have interpreted the destruction of the king statue in light of an ancient Roman idea called damnatio memoriae which involves the complete erasure eradication of any symbols of a ruler but as many people have pointed out iconoclasm isn't holy or even principally an act of erasure the things that iconoclasts attack seldom disappear in fact as one scholar has suggested they persist in function by being perpetually destroyed and this is especially true of the statue of George the third nearly as soon as the statue came down Americans began putting it back up and pushing it back over again and again and again the statues destruction inspired over a dozen 19th century visual representations this is just a sampling the early 20th century would actually bring proposals for a new equestrian statue of George the third at Bowling Green to replace the one that had been lost in 1776 and in turn those proposals were met with very angry suggestions for a counter monument a monument that showed a crowd tearing the statue down so very ironically a kind of memorial to iconoclasm but the events of Bowling Green also inspired performances organizers of civic pageants and parade began staging Riaan means of the destruction in 1909 a grand city festival called the Hudson Fulton celebration featured a parade with floats representing episodes in New York history one of those floats as you can just about see in this photograph included a model of the equestrian statue with actors in colonial costume about two decades later in 1932 the Waldorf Astoria hosted an elaborate ball organized by a group called the Society of Rose Art architects the theme of the party was old New York and the guests included elite New Yorkers descended from founding families of the city garbed an 18th century dress they performed a series of tableau vivant revisiting colonial history including once again the act of iconoclasm at rolling green a third reenactment occurred as recently as 1976 outside New York in Wilton Connecticut now Bolton was the town where those loyalists had made off with parts of the statue and that had become a part of local lore over the centuries in the bicentennial year what Wilton residents marked their role in this national history at their 4th of July parade which included a reproduction of the statue that was ritually conveyed through the streets and beheaded now by way of drawing things to a close let me come back to the Hudson Fulton celebration because it offers a kind of counterpoint to those actions of political protests that originally brought the statue down in 1776 ordinary people propelled the iconoclasm at Bowling Green following rituals that the English had followed for decades but in 1909 it was members of the New York elite that restaged the statues destruction they remade what might be regarded as an English ritual of protest into an American story and although the event promised a reenactment no statues in fact came down now this was the grandest Civic party that New York had ever thrown literally lasted for several weeks and the event that revisited the destruction at Bowling Green was a day long parade that meandered from the Upper West Side all the way down to Washington Square Park it had to be big because it would had to survey for different areas for different periods in New York history the Indian the Dutch the British and the American the organizers chose to represent this history with what they called a historical parade of moving models and living tableaus and however paradoxically then the parade was meant as feature stationary scenes on mobile platforms now today we simply call these things floats but in 1909 New Yorkers had a very rich vocabulary for describing them they called them scenes and pictures and they meant to instruct spectators through a process that they called visual unfolding promotional materials like the one you see here and I'm sorry this is so faint helped to create this impression of historical order this pamphlet gave each flow a name a description in a clear place within that parade and the text that circled here it's bit hard to read but it identifies the destruction of the statue of George the third the organizers also illustrated the floats in the form of vignettes here again you can see the Kings statue and they marketed souvenirs in the form of post cards so that spectators could take a piece of the parade home now by 1909 that idea of tableaus or tableaux vivants had been around for quite some time they were very popular they were meant to involve costumed participants enacting scenes from very familiar paintings or sculptures literature or historical events and they were designed to be still and that helps to explain a few things about the float of the bowling-green statue even though all of the promotional material for the parade narrates an act of destruction and all the images I've seen nothing gets destroyed photographs from the parade show a costume a group of costumed standing around the base of a statue doing pretty much nothing a few of them are holding ropes but very lackadaisically here's a view from another angle that shows much the same thing in both photographs the statue is upright and undamaged now all of those details also appear in the postcard which was very likely drawn from the history of tableaux vivants what you're looking at here is an image that was circulated by a publisher who brought together proposed scenes for people in various towns to enact as tableaux vivants and as you can see the Kings statue was offered up the destruction the king statue was offered up as a tableau vivant you could literally purchase this and have a kind of model to follow so I think that's pretty interesting in some ways because what the parade seems to have represented them was not so much a political or civic history although it was that but it was also an art history the statue on that float depended upon a succession of images that have been in place for a very long time already still it's worth observing that in the end what that flow presented was not destruction but rather a failure to destruct now maybe those costumed performers tore the statue down at the end of the parade and maybe no photographer was there in order to snap a picture but for the long duration of the parade up and down Fifth Avenue what people saw was not iconoclasm or its aftermath but really just the promise that something might happen now at some level the Hudson Fulton organizers recognized that they had a problem because they tried to deflect critiques of the prey by saying well you know realism is just really hard to make happen but they also had to contend with some unintended distortions of time each flow was supposed to follow in a chronological sequence so the statue was meant to follow something that came in 1775 and then 1777 would come right afterwards but that didn't happen the floats got out of order so as you can see here there's this nice little colonial house that's following the float of the king statue well this was meant to have come several floats before so everything got mixed up now critics of the parade had an absolute field day with these errors if you've ever organized anything like this you can imagine how mortified I think the organizers must have felt and also because this was a time when Americans took their colonial history very very seriously this was a time of colonial revivals and although we really don't have time to get into that today let me just mention it was a time period that saw the rise of numerous groups who identified themselves as guardians of historical culture people that scholars call now the genteel or hereditary elite their goal was to shore up American traditions against a host of perceived threats from industrialization and commercialization to the growth of immigration in the laboring classes they sponsored institutions like libraries and museums and they sought to promote what a historian David glasburgh has called quote the vitality and picturesqueness of their own anglo-american protestant history and customs the Hudson Fulton celebration fell squarely within those ambitions one member of the New York elite explained that the event would benefit the native population of the city he meant white New Yorkers because they were more concerned quote with the present than the past the benefit to New York's foreign-born population he added was obvious now I've been calling attention to what the flow of the Statue failed to accomplish but this man's comment begs the related question of what it did achieve in the end why did Americans resurrect George the third only to suggest that they would pull him down again well for one the parade occurred during a period of heightened self-consciousness about your contributions to its revolutionary past four decades the destruction of the statue had been represented as a starting point for the American Revolution locally it was the city's version of the Boston Tea Party something that allowed later generations to pinpoint the genesis of an American New York as opposed to a Dutch New York for a British New York or even an indigenous New York iconoclasm in this scenario it was quite literally a tipping point it marked New York's entree into the revolution and it demonstrated the city's patriotism but another way of answering what the Hudson Fulton float accomplished is to underscore once again at the reproduction statue of George the third remained standing despite the assurance of destruction despite those ropes casually held by the re-enactors an icon of British colonial rule remained intact and visible on the city streets we have to consider what this non destruction means within an early twentieth century culture that was anxious about the growing racial and ethnic diversity of New York scholars have recently emphasised the persistent Englishness of the post-revolutionary United States in many ways white Americans continued to model their culture on British culture the reappearance of the royal statue into the 20th century begs us to consider a much longer trajectory of Anglophilia by pulling the statue down Americans marked their political independence from Britain but by keeping it up in 1909 in later decades they help to reinforce certain social hegemonies the scholars have observed that this historic that historical reenactments often occasion a return to something that is unresolved Rebecca Schneider the performance theorist of brown spikes the example of Civil War reenactments which some participants say they are fighting again to win a war that they feel isn't over in the case of Bowling Green what's unresolved is not the outcome of the American Revolution but rather processes of local and national self-definition iconoclasm is a very powerful force in this process because it entails reinvention as well as destruction and out with the old and an in with the new for all the stillness of the tableaux vivants and hudson fulton celebration there was a much longer historical motion driving that flow of king george's statue there's every evidence that this process is still ongoing and in ways wholly appropriate to a new century as many of you probably know the hottest theater ticket in New York right now is for a show called Hamilton in some ways it's a rather unlikely success because it tells the story of America's founding fathers in particular the rise and fall of the brilliant young statesman Alexander Hamilton what makes this show so exciting though is the fresh way in which it's presented the founding fathers are all portrayed by actors of color and the lyrics are written in hip-hop lin-manuel Miranda who is the brilliant young author and star of the show has explained why he wrote and cast the play in such a new fashion he has said quote it's the story of America then told by America now now that observation could just as well describe the motivation behind the perennial reappearance of George the third in American culture even now millennial Americans have a new way to experience the bowling-green iconoclasm up town from the theater in which Hamilton is appearing the New York Historical Society has a digitized version of Johannes or tells painting the image that you've been looking at from which the last hour but where the 20th century re-enacted the scene as a still life the 21st has set it into motion by walking back and forth and waving their arms in the air visitors can trigger sensors that activate the image and for some groups like the school group that you see here the drama culminates with the Statue crashing to the ground here I think lin-manuel Miranda's words about history seem especially fitting by reenacting through new digital technologies a story of America then these school kids are mobilizing iconoclasm to remake America now thank you very much I noticed that there were a group of Native Americans in the painting on the left-hand side is that historically accurate I'm really glad you noticed that it's something that I've done some research on and unfortunately simply didn't have enough time to talk about that today there is a there is a Native American family a man a woman and two children that do appear on the left hand side of or tells painting it is probably not historically accurate in fact there were not there were not that many indigenous people from Manhattan left in New York by 1776 to the best of my knowledge the painter was a recent German immigrant and it's likely that he modelled the appearance of that family on images of Native Americans that were already in circulation as part of a visual culture but still their presence there does raise some very interesting questions about political participation moving a bit from US history while I was thinking of other examples of destroyed statuary and there's the I think it's Keats the poem Ozymandias if about a statue of a ruler that's come upon in a desert destroyed and on the basis of statute says my name is Ozymandias king of kings look on me and despair or something and thinking of the destruction of Abraham destruct destroying the idols and the old testament and thinking of moses coming down and destroying the golden calf and so thinking there some larger sociological meaning about what is worth valuing or worshiping and what isn't thank you for that question so the question was about in part other narratives of iconoclasm in American American history and in particular old tests of the Old Testament narrative of the Golden Calf and that's absolutely relevant in this in fact I've been describing this as an instant a political iconoclasm but there were all kinds of ways in which English rituals of iconoclasm were bound up with the Protestant Reformation it's very hard to separate religious and political iconoclasm in many circumstances and this was really no exception and to my mind on this point it's really important that the King statue was gilded because it does conjure up the colour and the substance of the Golden Calf and gilded things were very troubling to people who were concerned about idolatry so there the color of the statue in particular was not insignificant and as late as the 18th century British and Americans British people and Americans we're talking about acts of political iconoclasm but using the rhetoric of religious idolatry so there are many ways in which the history of religion and issues of iconoclasm enter into incidents that might not seem to be about religion at all hi so I was in Middle School when we invaded Iraq and I was wondering what you made of the stage iconoclasm regarding the statue of Saddam Hussein the image of people pulling it down and then finding out Oh staged right you know the Americans in Iraq so what do you make of that that that's a great it's a terrific question the destruction of the statue of Saddam Hussein always comes up when I when I talk about this project and I'm sure that many of you can probably visualize a very famous photograph of the statue coming down with an American soldier present in the picture it was a wonderful article that appeared in The New Yorker a few years ago called the toppling which directly explored that incident as an event that may well have been staged in some part by American journalists and the American military working together with with Iraqi citizens I think I'll answer that simply by calling your attention again to what we see up on the screen here iconoclasm as as you all know is something that continues to happen you know with with with incredible frequency in contemporary society and the way that most of us learn about it is through photography or through digital media I'm sure again you can think of numerous examples I'm teaching as I mentioned before a class on art and destruction right now and one of the issues that I've been exploring with my students is how digital media and how photography turns us into spectators and consumers and maybe even participants in iconoclasm today so in past centuries iconoclastic incidents might have been occurred well after the fact by painters print makers today we have almost immediate access via YouTube via via the media to events like this and I think it raises a lot of really fascinating questions about what it means to experience iconoclasm almost in real time that might be happening on the other side of the world

Maurice Vega

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