Statues are peculiar things aren’t they? All this perfectly reasonable (though not always strictly rational) debate about Confederate monuments and statues of Christopher Columbus in America has got us all thinking. At the very least it reinforces the fairly obvious notion that statues are usually erected (and then sometimes demolished) in the name of some ideology or other. There’s no such thing as a value-free statue. Anybody who’s praised by one set of people is likely to be condemned by another set.
One of my favorite and most blameless statues is the fellow above, The Walking Man, by George Fuller, a statue in my home town of Sheffield, England. It dates from 1957, though I only became aware of it in the 1980s.
I’m not sure which city in the world has the most statues, but I’d think London has a pretty good claim, and the fact is most Londoners walk around without really noticing most of them. Sure, we know that’s Nelson up on the top of his column and we know that Peter Pan has a statue in Kensington Gardens, and there are various kings and queens are all over the place, but we don’t really pay much attention.
Remarkably few Londoners I’ve talked to were aware of the bust of JFK on Marylebone Road, which was paid for by Sunday Telegraph readers apparently. It was recenty vandalized, and I wonder what its future is, and equally I don’t know if the vandalism was the result of anti-Americanism or just a night on the piss
There’s a fine statue of Bela Bartok near South Kensington tube. Bartok lived a blameless life as far as I know, though I suspect not many people wandering the streets of South Ken know his music or would like it much if they did. Bartok first stayed in the area in 1882: the statue was originally erected in a different location in 2004, some 60 years after Bartok’s death.
So yes, by definition statues tend to be backward looking and conservative with a small c. You want their significance to last a while. Here is Los Angeles we try to jazz things up a bit, and arguably the sense of history is short. There’s a statue of Bruce Lee in Chinatown.
James Dean, up by the Griffith Park Observatory,
Rocky and Bullwinkle on Sunset Strip:
And, for a time there was this statue of Elvis Presley outside a store on Hollywood Boulevard.
But this is a mass-produced statue, one you can buy. Here’s a doppelgänger in situ in Great Yarmouth, in East Anglia.
And so t’other day I was walking in the edgelands of Beverly Hills and I came across this memorial to General Don Jose de San Martin, who I admit is not exactly an open book to me:
And of course that’s another aspect of statuary: the ignorant can get a sort of education from statues. As you see, he was the liberator of Argentina, Chile and Peru, though Peru does look like a bit of an afterthought, at least on the part of the memorial-maker.
And best of all, around the back of the memorial there’s this somehow very wonderful map of South America. You aren’t here.