Michael Rakowitz’s 'The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist,' scheduled to appear on London's Fourth Plinth in 2018, deals with the destruction of Iraq’s economy and cultural artifacts under U.S. and ISIS occupation. c/o Michael Rakowitz

Arts & Entertainment

Reconsidering The Open Space At Lee Park

Should a single work replace the Robert E. Lee statue, or many works?

Part of an ongoing discussion as to what should replace the Robert E. Lee statue at the Oak Lawn park where it once stood, this column follows an inquiry into counter-monuments and their possibilities and a piece on the need for art-minded historical soul searching.

The statue of Robert E. Lee is gone and it’s not coming back. Recently, a week after the city council voted to have it removed, the City of Dallas took down the bronze equestrian statue of the Confederate general, and his accompanying rider from Lee Park in Oak Lawn. This was the first such removal in Dallas but likely not the last. President Franklin D. Roosevelt attended the unveiling in 1936 and praised Lee as “one of our greatest American Christians and one of our greatest American gentlemen.” Times have changed. In cities across the country, monuments to the soldiers of the Confederacy have become lightning rods of controversy due to their connotations of slavery and Jim Crow. The question that Dallas now is what to do with the site.

Renaming the park will be the first order of business. Tomorrow the Dallas park board votes on the name change, which will likely leave the space christened Oak Lawn Park. What to do with the plinth where the statue of Lee once prominently stood should be second. Over the weekend, a group of protesters gathered in the park as a show of support for the absent statue. Some left flowers a top the plinth, lamenting the loss of their beloved Lee. It was a scene dotted with Confederate battle flags and semiautomatic rifles. Yet the park doesn’t have to be a rallying point, commandeered by Confederate sympathizers going forward. Rather, it can become a point of pride and focus for the arts in Dallas. All the city has to do is look to London for inspiration.

For over 150 years, a plinth meant to hold an equestrian statue of King William IV sat empty in London’s Trafalgar Square. In 1998, that changed. Instead of installing the long-awaited statue of William IV, the Royal Society of Arts came up with another plan, giving birth to the Fourth Plinth Project. It commissioned three contemporary sculptures for display on the plinth creating a rotating exhibition space. From 1999 to 2001, the plinth exhibited yearlong exhibitions with works by Mark Wallinger, Bill Woodrow, and Rachel Whiteread. After Whiteread’s work, Monument, ended its run in 2001, the plinth sat empty for several years until 2005. After a public survey found overwhelming support to continue the program, the Fourth Plinth Commission was formed. It supervised the commission of eight artworks for the space with two more as yet unrealized, scheduled for 2018 and 2020.

The Fourth Plinth Programme is something the city should emulate in Oak Lawn Park, as it would create a new cultural destination for the city. It’s not as if this idea is unusual for Dallas either. The city already maintains some 300 plus public works through the Office of Cultural Affairs. Local institutions are also well versed in public art displays. The Nasher Sculpture Center, for example, hosted a citywide exhibition titled Nasher XChange featuring 10 public works for its 10-year anniversary. An undertaking of such an endeavor is completely achievable in Dallas.

In London, the Commission is comprised of advisors appointed by the mayor with funding for the Fourth Plinth Programme coming from the Mayor of London and Arts Council England. A similar organization can work here. However, the exact makeup of such a commission in Dallas should be worked out locally with input from citizens, artists, the city, Dallas’ cultural institutions, and private interests. Funding should also be handled the same way.

This commission will have the sole authority to decide what goes into the space. Dealing with such a sensitive site, however, the commission should not shy away from art that is politically charged. The Fourth Plinth has displayed works dealing with the concepts of beauty, femininity, power, and wealth. Michael Rakowitz’s The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist, scheduled to go on display in 2018, deals with the destruction of Iraq’s economy and cultural artifacts under U.S. and ISIS occupation. Not all work chosen needs to carry a blatant political message, especially in relation to what once stood in Oak Lawn Park. However, the most successful work is always the most thought-provoking.

Removing Confederate imagery won’t reverse the institutional racism interwoven into the fabric of our society. Nevertheless, as Confederate imagery falls by the wayside, Dallas needs to be proactive in its efforts to bring the city together. A sculptural exhibition similar to the Fourth Plinth Programme will prove to be a dynamic celebration of the city’s investment in the arts. It will also serve as a message that Dallas is firmly planted in the 21st century and not wed to the ideals of its troubled past. Beyond anything, it’s also something that residents, no matter their background, can take pride in.

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Comments

  • Johnny Lanzillo IV

    I say we put a statue of a pothole up. Why not use Dallas’ crowning glory?

  • Lyndsay Knecht

    But wait. The current piece on Fourth Plinth is very reductive and phallic and, perhaps worst of all, purports to be “about positivity.” How could we trust a non-political entity to curate this innately political space? Isn’t it the /Dallas Way/ to point to some scrubbed or generalized pride in the arts to take the focus away from inequity & inequality?

    • Doyle Rader

      Does Dallas have a “way?”

      • Lyndsay Knecht

        It has a few, but one of them seems to be salving controversy or equating morality with a dedication to “the arts” in themselves. An example: the city gives lots of well-publicized OCA grants to artists of color, yet cuts funding for neighborhood arts centers/initiatives in favor of bailing out ATTPAC.

      • Lauren Woods
  • PeterTx52

    “Removing Confederate imagery won’t reverse the institutional racism interwoven into the fabric of our society”
    see this part of the problem. removing the statue solved not a d*mn thing, it only opened wounds that were for the most part healed over, but grievance mongers like Rawlings and Caraway want to stir things up so that folks wont see what a pitiful job the city council is doing as they drive the city into the ground.

  • PeterTx52

    “The Fourth Plinth has displayed works dealing with the concepts of beauty, femininity, power, and wealth. ”
    if we go in this direction we’ll be stuck looking at left-wing nonsense

  • Max Powers

    Better idea.

    Tear down Arlington Hall not because of Lee, but because it takes up so much real estate on what is a nice park.

    While we are it… Close of Turtle Creek Blvd between Hall and Lemmon to make for nicer, larger park.

  • Jo Se

    Hey, coprophilliacs: you applauded renaming parks, but “Park” is a famous Civil War Lieutenant.

    See https://books.google.com/books?id=knZ0CQAAQBAJ&pg=PT72&lpg=PT72&dq=“lieutenant+park”+confederate&source=bl&ots=2w_F-e21VD&sig=R8Kwkjpw9mpC9E0OE-hhjysMySM&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwinmrGcr7nWAhVP0GMKHbmuCLQQ6AEITTAK#v=onepage&q=”lieutenant park”&f=false

    Hmmm.

    • Jordan Roth

      You’re an idiot

  • Jordan Roth

    I was thinking of the Trafalgar Square model, too. I think anything that goes on that speWild there are no comments. I was thinking of the Trafalgar Square model, too. I think anything that goes on that specific plinth is still sitting in the shadow of what was once there. It makes sense that if the plinth remains, rotating exhibits could occur, but it’s difficult to manage that long-term. Boards and committees turn over and enthusiasm comes and goes. And there will always be the conversation about “they took down a statue of General Lee to put up that!” So, I think they should take down the plinth and replace it with a fountain. A happy fountain where people can make wishes.cific plinth is still sitting in the shadow of what was once there. It makes sense that if the plinth remains, rotating exhibits could occur, but it’s difficult to manage that long-term. Boards and committees turn over and enthusiasm comes and goes. And there will always be the conversation about “they took down a statue of General Lee to put up that!” So, I think they should take down the plinth and replace it with a fountain. A happy fountain where people can make wishes.

  • Thom Prentice

    A statue of John F. Kennedy … especially since the Dallas (White) Citizens Council, crusty segregationist anti-Kennedy and LBJ Democratic politicians, the Dealeys of The Dallas Morning Noise and other little bastards were determined that NO statue of JFK would be erected at what passes for the Kennedy Memorial downtown.

    A statue of John F. Kennedy is not a decontextualized suggestion out of the blue either: President Kennedy’s motorcade passed by Oak Lawn Park (aka Lee Park) as it turned from Lemmon to Turtle Creek to Cedar Springs and then downtown to Main St. And history.

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