The Sculpture ‘Marmite’ Question:

What do you love?

Auguste Rodin, The Thinker
Auguste Rodin, The Thinker with legs and stool blown apart by Weather Underground in March, 1970, Cleveland Museum of Art, USA (photo: © All Rights Reserved by Joseph Hollick )

What do you hate?

Zurab Tsereteli, Peter the Great
Zurab Tsereteli, Peter the Great, 1997, stainless steel, bronze and copper h.98m., Moskva river, Moscow, Russia, commemorating 300 years of the Russian Navy (photo: Creative Commons, e_chaya)

Raqs Media Collective replies:

The sculpture which is our current favourite became what it is at 1pm on the afternoon of 24 March 1970. This was when a bronze cast of Rodin’s The Thinker was blown off its site at the Cleveland Museum of Art by the force of a crude bomb planted at its base by a local section of the Weather Underground. The activists will be remembered more for the accidental concreteness of their sculptural criticism than for the deliberate content of their politics. The bomb ripped apart The Thinker’s feet, leaving two gaping holes in place of the bronze lower limbs. But why should an injured version of an image, or icon like Rodin’s Thinker inspire such affection on our part? It proves to us that thought needs feet. And that a thinker can get hurt, and be hated enough to be bombed, if he or she sits for too long in one place. The current condition of this sculpture suggests that it is safer to be an agile thinker than to be a stationary one. To us, this underscores the perils of meditative stasis, and reminds us to try and achieve the aspiration that we have set ourselves – of ‘kinetic contemplation’ – which is just another way of translating the word ‘Raqs’.

The sculpture we loathe is a thousand ton metal confection by Zurab Tsereteli of a disproportionately oversized man steering a stunted sailing ship on the Moskva river in Moscow. Apparently it was originally conceived as a commemoration of the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus setting foot in the New World, or what was to become the Americas. It was too expensive for what the clients Tsereteli had in mind, and so, this Columbus never set sail, but became Peter the Great instead. Moscow, the city that Peter the Great hated, bears this burden. The monumental sculpture embodies a grandiosity that is ugly beyond belief and illustrates the singular desire of power for permanence – an attempt at the disfiguration of time by means of the occupation of space.

Raqs Media Collective is currently holding its first major UK exhibition,‘Twilight Language’ at The Whitworth, Manchester.