This summer, one of New York City’s most profound art installations is one that has changed a community forever. It’s the Gramsci Monument, an unconventional, interactive public art space that was erected at Forest Houses in the Bronx in May. Forest Houses is one of the New York City Housing Authority’s housing developments, and a community that was happy to welcome Thomas Hirschhorn, the creative force behind the Gramsci Monument, to their neighborhood.
Since its construction in May, the monument, a nod to Philosopher Antonio Gramsci who believed that every human being is an intellectual, has existed as an interactive display for anyone to explore. The New York Times explains that the monument functions as “a kind of village festival, or inner-city intellectual Woodstock, with lectures, concerts, recitals and art programs on the stages and pavilions that Mr. Hirschhorn and a paid crew of workers chosen from the Forest Houses have built,” describing some of its offerings.
The Gramsci Monument is an enormous fort-like structure made from plywood, plexiglass, and excessive amounts of beige packing tape. It houses many rooms where visitors can read or watch performances, allowing this massive art site to not only honor one of philosophy’s greatest minds, but encourage community participation as well. Here, you can browse through some of Gramsci’s personal artifacts, read philosophy texts, wander through the library, listen to poetry readings or music, or visit the computer room. There’s a wading pool, a snack bar, an active radio station, performance spaces, and more.
What makes the Gramsci Monument a truly influential art site is the passionate community involvement that has made the monument flourish. During its initial construction, many wondered if the Forest Houses residents would abhor the public art display, but on the contrary, they have embraced it and how it has brought the community together. Josh Stevenson, a NYCHA resident, recently reported his impression of the monument, saying, “To have such an artistic workshop in the middle of this neighborhood is a very uplifiting and powerful thing and knowing that the people of Forest Houses have a place to enjoy that level of expression is heartwarming.” Forest Houses resident Myrna Alvarez agrees. Alvarez volunteers at the monument by providing snacks to visitors and she says, “I wish we could keep it forever; the community would get closer. It will stay in my heart and in my mind.”
The Gramsci Monument will be dismantled on September 15th, but its mark on the neighborhood will endure. Hirschhorn and the residents of Forest Houses have shown the world the power that art has to transform a community, and many will be sad to see the monument go.