Who: Salamishah Tillet, Rebecca Belmore, Zena Howard, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, Justin Garrett Moore, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák, Cecilia Alemani, Melanie Kress
What: Discussions on monumental public sculpture sponsored by the High Line and Next City
Where: Next City
When: Wednesday, January 27, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00; Friday, January 28, pay-what-you-wish, 1:00 (suggested admission $20 for both events)
Why: In June 2019, the High Line installed its inaugural plinth commission, Simone Leigh’s Brick House, a sixteen-foot-high bronze bust of a Black woman on the Spur at Thirtieth St. and Tenth Ave., overlooking traffic. The woman’s eyes are rubbed out and four cornrow braids with cowrie shells fall from her afro onto a skirt based on the Natchez, Mississippi, restaurant Mammy’s Cupboard as well as the Batammaliba (“those who are the real architects of the earth”) building style of Benin and Togo and the nearly extinct dome-shaped Mousgoum teleuk clay dwellings that can be found in Cameroon and Chad. The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based Leigh will represent the United States at the 2022 Venice Biennale, and she recently unveiled the twenty-inch-tall limited-edition sculpture Sentinel IV, raising money for the nonprofit organization Color of Change. Brick House, which also evokes the Commodores hit (“Ow, she’s a brick house / She’s mighty-mighty, just lettin’ it all hang out / She’s a brick house / That lady’s stacked and that’s a fact / Ain’t holding nothing back”), will remain up through the spring, casting an imposing figure across the area, dominating the space around it with a powerful energy at a time when public statues and sculptures are being reevaluated and, sometimes, torn down because of their subjects’ historical connections to racism, misogyny, slavery, and other societal ills.
The High Line and Next City, a nonprofit news organization whose mission is “to inspire greater economic, environmental, and social justice in cities,” have teamed up for the Future of Monumentality Speaker Series, which kicks off this week with two events moderated by Salamishah Tillet focusing on monumental public sculpture just as Brick House prepares to start giving way to the second plinth commission, chosen from shortlisted artists Jonathan Berger, Minerva Cuevas, Jeremy Deller, Sam Durant, Charles Gaines, Lena Henke, Matthew Day Jackson, Roman Ondak, Paola Pivi, Haim Steinbach, and Cosima von Bonin. On January 27 at 1:00, Paul Ramirez Jonas, Justin Garrett Moore, and Zena Howard will discuss “What Is Monumentality?,” exploring the connections between art and architecture, the narrative of the work in relation to the audience, and who can tell which story. On January 28 at 1:00, Rebecca Belmore, Bryan Lee Jr., Mayor Marvin Rees, and Zsuzsa Szegedy-Maszák will talk about “Alternatives to Monumentality,” examining form and function, displacing and recontextualizing, and storytelling traditions. "Monuments have hurt our communities, but they can also be used to heal,” Next City executive director Lucas Grindley said in a statement. “Now is the time to learn from the many practitioners already doing the work of reimagining monuments.”
The High Line has just announced the twelve finalists for the third and fourth plinth commissions, scheduled to be installed in 2022 and 2024; the list of eighty proposals has been whittled down to submissions by Iván Argote, Nina Beier, Margarita Cabrera, Nick Cave, Banu Cennetoğlu, Rafa Esparza, Teresita Fernández, Kapwani Kiwanga, Lu Pingyuan, Pamela Rosenkranz, Mary Sibande, and Andra Ursuţa. You can see their maquettes either on the High Line at the Coach Passage at Thirtieth St. through April or online here.