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Smashing statues : the rise and fall of America's public monuments
2022
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Library Journal Review
Thompson (John Jay Coll. of Criminal Justice; Possession) offers a crisply written book encompassing law, art, history, and politics that contextualizes the American debate over monuments, particularly to the Confederacy. These she describes as "effigies," portraying historical figures whose qualities were deemed honorable by those who controlled the narrative. Thompson rejects the idea of eliminating such monuments outright and argues that there's a human need for realistic artistic depictions. Using select examples (the statue of King George III in Bowling Green, KY; in Washington, DC, Enthroned Washington and the Statue of Freedom atop the Capitol dome; Confederate monuments like the one on Georgia's Stone Mountain) the author demonstrates art's frequently misrepresentative nature. Her careful analysis reveals that most Confederate and Union memorials are not equestrian figures of commanders but displays of common soldiers celebrated for their obedience to authority. When statues are removed, it's generally done by officials, not crowds, and they're transferred to storage, preserving history and allowing conversations to continue in classrooms and the media. VERDICT Worthily preceded by Sanford Levinson's Written in Stone and David Gobel and Daves Rossell's Commemoration in America, Thompson's book underlines the need to evaluate public monuments, murals, and exhibits, to make them nexuses of learning rather than reinforcers of past beliefs.--Frederick J. Augustyn Jr.
Publishers Weekly Review
Thompson (Possession), a professor of art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, examines in this trenchant account "the ideologies, hatreds, and ambitions" behind America's public monuments, and the debate over "what we can and should do with them now." Briskly recounting the toppling of a statue of King George III by rebellious New Yorkers in 1776, she notes that "long before American artists ever created a monument, American protesters tore one down." Thompson also reveals that the bronze Freedom statue on top of the U.S. Capitol building was "made by a slave owner and one of the men he enslaved," and that 19th-century sculptor Horatio Greenough, the "father of monuments," enshrined his racist beliefs in statues of George Washington and a clash between white settlers and a Native American warrior. In the 1880s, Southern elites erected monuments celebrating rank-and-file Confederate soldiers for their "obedience" as a means of discouraging poor whites from joining labor unions, according to Thompson. Though she calls for communities to decide the fates of problematic monuments, Thompson concedes that tearing them down is "all too often the only real option." Full of intriguing historical tidbits and incisive cultural analysis, this is a worthy study of a complex and controversial issue. Illus. (Feb.)
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