Are you an admirer? A critic?
What? You’ve never heard of Gotthold Ephraim Lessing? No! Perhaps his 1748 play will ring a bell: Der Junge Gelehrten, or “The Young Scholar.”
Still no? How can that be?! There’s a statue of him big as life in Washington Park. For almost a century.
Point made? Good. Statues are vastly overrated as tributes, or mnemonic devices, or anything other than hunks of bronze that sit neglected in parks providing roosts for pigeons.
Well, I suppose they’re also something for people to bicker about. Endlessly. With Columbus Day closing in, and Lori Lightfoot’s kick-the-can-down-the-road Chicago Monuments Project bouncing back into view after two years of tumbling forward — in brief: keep the three Columbus statues mothballed and ditch 10 more that reek of white supremacy — I would be in danger of having my pundit card revoked if I didn’t flip my palm toward the air and glibly opine.
The 73-page report is nuanced. Summarizing it makes it sound more extreme than it actually is. When I first read news stories about about its findings, my takeaway was the commission managed the neat trick of finally making me sympathetic to keeping Columbus by suggesting that the bas-reliefs on the DuSable Bridge should go. Those are gorgeous and if they are a little History as Told By John Wayne, well, nobody said America is a tidy, fair place. The cowboys won, right?
But the report doesn’t suggest the offending panels simply be jackhammered away for “their allegorical representation of the triumph of Western civilization.” There are landmark considerations and maybe a “powerful, non-physical and possibly periodic, deactivation or disruption of these works” would suffice, which I imagine involves giving $10,000 to a School of the Art Institute student to devise a light show strobing blood red flashes across the bas-reliefs while looped shrieks startle passing tourists.
Why not? Times change and we change with them. We’ve been battering each other for so long over this literal deadweight from the past, I’m wondering if it isn’t time to try to get a little smarter about it.
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