There is a monument to Christopher Columbus at the Minnesota capitol in St Paul? I had no idea. He was an evil old monster, I’m all for removing anything like that — and there is a petition to remove it and replace it with two statues, one of Prince and another of someone chosen by the Indian community. I like that idea.
But then, I think we should regularly change art anyway. The Columbus statue isn’t exactly equivalent to Michelangelo’s David. It was bought and paid for by an association of Italian-Americans about a century ago, and so what it really represents is a wave of self-promotion by an ethnic community that had been discriminated against (which is a fine thing to do; it’s just too bad they picked such a terrible hero), and isn’t necessarily high art. Of course, Michelangelo’s David was also commissioned as propaganda by Florentines to cock a snook at Rome, so motives don’t necessarily mar great art, but does anyone believe this particular statue will stand the test of time? Does anyone think the Confederate statues that dot the landscape are actually significant works of art? Many of them were mass-produced!
I have no problem with old, pedestrian art being taken down and replaced with new stuff — that’s the kind of change that also brings more money to artists, too. And then, a century from now, Minnesotans can look at the statue of Prince and think about whether to swap it out with something new, too.*
We often revise and modify memorial art. That statue of Columbus originally described him as ‘discovering’ America; that did not go over well in a state with a substantial native population and an even larger Scandinavian population (and, I fear, the sensibilities of the Lake Wobegone set were more influential than the Indians) and it was replaced with a plaque that credited him with
initiated the merging of the cultures between the old and new worlds (warning: autoplay video at link!), which is the niftiest euphemism for rape, looting, and genocide I’ve ever seen.
There’s also a Spanish-American War memorial there that had the most revealing change:
The original memorial honored Minnesota soldiers who “battled to free the oppressed peoples of the Philippine Islands, who suffered under the despotic rule of Spain.”
The corrected language reads: “The United States entered that war to defeat Spain, not to free the Filipinos. Most of the battles listed above were fought against Filipinos.”
Yeah, that’s a kinda different interpretation all right.
So sure, let’s not pretend old statues become sacred with the passage of time.
*I know, the music of Prince is timeless, and he didn’t go around maiming and murdering people, but still…we don’t get to dictate the will of our descendants.