Constantin Boym (b. 1955, Moscow, Russia: lives New York)
transport crate, vinyl
95 x 70 x 35 in
A little-known, still-intact Soviet monument in the middle of Manhattan (in the gardens of the United Nations) is re-imagined by Boym as a monument to the Cold War. The larger-than-life bronze by preeminent Soviet sculptor Evgeniy Victorovich Vuchetich (1908-1974) was a gift from the USSR to then newly built UN Headquarters in New York. Presented in 1959 as a symbol of Russia’s peace-loving policies (three years before the Cuban missile crisis would nearly put the planet on the edge of nuclear war), the sculpture carries an allegorical meaning. Its title derives from the Bible quote (Isaiah 2:4) “We Shall Beat Swords into Plowshares”—a surprising source for a gift from an atheist State. In spite of its peaceful message, the statue has a strangely threatening appearance, in which violent action is emphasized over a promise of harmony.
Boym proposes to send the old worker home to Moscow, but to leave behind his implements—both the hammer and the half-beaten sword—in place on the original pedestal. This newly incomplete memorial, a monument without a hero, thus becomes commemoration of victory in the Cold War. The victory is seen as a subtraction, as removal of a failed historical alternative. Yet, the empty space on the pedestal does not create a vacuum. In the urban context of Midtown Manhattan, this space gets charged by skyscrapers in the International Style, by traffic of cars and helicopters above, by the incomparable Pepsi-Cola sign across the river: in short, by capitalism itself.
Text by Stamatina Gregory.