Toppled Confederate statues will be paired with contemporary art in L.A.’s new MONUMENTS exhibition

Same Name, Different Theme

Toppled Confederate statues will be paired with contemporary art in L.A.’s new MONUMENTS exhibition

The Stonewall Jackson monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was taken down in July of 2021. (Nickmorgan2/Wikimedia Commons, accessed and cropped under CC BY-SA 3.0)

After more than 100 Confederate statues and monuments have been pulled from public view around the U. S. in recent years, the curators of a proposed museum exhibition in Los Angeles are working to put some of them back on display in a “broader context.”

L.A.’s nonprofit arts organization LAXART is behind a forthcoming show that aims to bring toppled Confederate statues from around the country to California and pair them with new works of art that will be created as a ‘response’ to the originals that were taken down.

Tentatively titled MONUMENTS, the exhibition is planned for the fall of 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. The exhibit will be curated by Hamza Walker, director of LAXART, and Kara Walker (no relation), an artist and MacArthur Foundation genius grant recipient known for provocative works such as A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, a giant sphinx with a Mammy-like head, made out of sugar and shown in 2014 at the now-demolished Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn, New York.

Scott Briscoe, manager of New York gallery Sikkema Jenkins & Co. and a media representative for Kara Walker, confirmed that she will participate in the exhibit. Support in moving the statues and monuments to Los Angeles is coming from donors such as the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and The Warhol Foundation, according to LAXART’s director.

The show was further confirmed in a CityLab report about the fate of Confederate statues and monuments that have been removed from public view in recent years, as citizens pressure elected officials to take down works of art erected to honor proponents of slavery. LAXART “has been looking to scoop up toppled Confederate monuments for an exhibit planned for 2022 at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles,” according to CityLab.

Art critic William Poundstone also wrote about the exhibit this fall for art blog Poundstone cited a June 3, 2021, letter sent by Hamza Walker to John Tecklenburg, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, asking to borrow that city’s statue of former Vice President and slave owner John Caldwell Calhoun, taken down in 2020.

In his letter, Hamza Walker told Tecklenburg that the city of Baltimore has agreed to loan four statues or monuments that its mayor took down in 2017 and that he is negotiating to obtain statues from Austin, Texas; Richmond, Virginia., and Durham, North Carolina.

Another statue headed to Los Angeles is one of Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson from Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville’s City Council voted last week to approve a request to send the Jackson statue to California, according to NBC.

Hamza Walker said in his letter to Charleston’s mayor that the idea behind the LAXART exhibit is to display historic statues alongside new works of art that can help put the Confederate monuments in a broader context.

“We have selected a group of recently decommissioned Civil War monuments from throughout the United States that we hope to put on display with the help of local and national municipalities and art historical institutions,” he said.

“Additionally, artists such as Ja’Tovia Gary, Torkwase Dyson, Abigail Deville, Natalie Ball, Devone Tines, and Leonardo Drew will create new artworks inspired by the historical monuments in order to confront and challenge long-held beliefs about the real people behind these inanimate objects and the ways in which we can build a roadmap forward.”

By exhibiting monuments from around the country in one indoor gallery, Walker wrote in his letter, “we are hoping to question the geographically specific context for these statues as well as the role they play in discussions about race, gender, censorship and American history. How does collective memory differ from history and how should we decide who and what is worth celebrating, especially as public values change over time?  What could ‘Reconstruction 2.0’ look like, and how would it avoid the failures of the first?”

Supplementing the gallery display will be “a robust series of public programming featuring contributions from art historians, politicians, journalists, scholars, poets, historians and artists,” he added. “These talks and panels will also be translated into a scholarly publication that will accompany the exhibition and provide broader context.”

LAXART is reportedly covering the cost of transporting the monuments to California. 

According to NBC, LAXART offered the city of Charlottesville $100,000 to move two statues for the MONUMENTS exhibit, but the city only agreed to lend one, so the final figure could still change.

In his letter regarding the Calhoun statue, Walker told Tecklenburg that Charleston wouldn’t have to pay to move it.

“We have contracted with Methods & Materials, a professional art handling company based out of Chicago, for shipment logistics,” he wrote. “They specialize in rigging, transport, installation and de-installation of large sculptural works. They have worked with museums, art collectors, and municipalities throughout the country. All associated costs would be paid for, in full, by LAXART with funds from private donors as well as grants we have received from the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and the Warhol Foundation.

Founded in 2005 and based in West Hollywood, LAXART describes itself as a nonprofit visual art space that promotes developments in contemporary culture through exhibitions, publications, and public programs.

“We believe that contemporary art is a means of understanding key issues of our times with all their inherent contradictions,” it states on its website. “Contemporary art assumes many forms. Rather than provide answers, it raises questions.”

Walker said he knows Los Angeles may not be the first place one might expect to find an exhibit with Confederate monuments, but he argues that there is a connection.

“Though Los Angeles may seem an odd location for an exhibition about a largely Southern phenomenon,” he said, “Los Angeles has its own interesting history with the Confederacy and MOCA’s galleries are not far from where D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, another sort of Confederate monument, was filmed.”