New Moscow monuments, or, states of innocence

Grant, B.

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Grant, B. (2001). New Moscow monuments, or, states of innocence. American Ethnologist, 28(2), 332–362.

Art , Monuments , Moscow , Russia , State Power , Time

In the 1990s, the Georgian sculptor Zurab Tsereteli triggered a furor over the millions of tax dollars the Moscow city government paid him for his monumental art installations around the Russian capital. Critics have assailed such gross expenditure in a period of economic privation, questioned the propriety of Tsereteli's ties to power, and ridiculed his often cartoon-like aesthetics. In the embattled new Russian state, this infantilization of public space through government-sponsored art reprises a familiar discourse of timeless innocence in the service of state power.

Main finding
The author’s concern is in attempting to analyze and make sense of the rapid regime changes after socialism, arguing that citizens may lose sight of the still present and strong influence of the lingering Soviet cosmological frames that continue to lend meaning to many people living in Moscow. This concern highlighted the tension between old and new governing structures, ideologies, and monumental public landscapes which, in part, materialize in oppositions over fairytale-esque sculptures of a prominent artist who works throughout Moscow. In short, the artwork is seen an attempt by the Russian state to ignore the Soviet past and Stalinist legacy that is still very influential today. The innocence portrayed in the fairytale style sculptures, the author suggests, acts as an effective detour around issues of post USSR political accountability and defer expectation for rising living standards. In sum, the monuments simultaneously stand outside of and create the political realm.

Description of method used in the article
Drew on literature that emphasizes the tranquility and a temporal aspect of monuments as well as the works of Abrams and Foucault to explore the myriad ways the state makes its power possible. Additionally, the author reflected on Barthe's masking potential of myths as a bourgeoisie instrument or meta-language (linked to an object) for maintaining the status quo and Groys's contrast to this whereby myths (i.e. monuments) are a form of political practice unto themselves and have the power to be transformative of how the world is viewed - thus whereby ideology and material are mutually constitutive.

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