Calhoun Monument art proposal met with skepticism

Published: Nov. 17, 2021 at 10:21 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 11:33 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A proposal that would see the John C. Calhoun monument displayed as part of a 2023 art exhibit in California did not go over well with members of the Charleston Commission on History. Commission members expressed concerns about the political nature of such a display.

“It appears this exhibition will be a highly political, highly ideological event which is likely to continue to propagate an unnuanced view of John C. Calhoun,” said commission member David McCormack. “We as a commission have a responsibility to both the City of Charleston and the State of South Carolina to no allow the Calhoun statue to become a pawn in the hands of individuals and organization about which we know little and over which we have no control.”

The committee was tasked with making a formal recommendation on the proposal to the city council. In the Wednesday meeting, commission members voted to delay making a recommendation until more information could be provided.

The LAXART exhibit would includes three parts – the actual exhibit, scholarly articles about the pieces and public programing. The Calhoun monument would be among dozens of controversial statues from around the nation that were recently removed. There would also be new pieces of modern art created for the collection and mixed in with the icons. Commission member Robert Rose says he need to know more about the people who would be writing the scholarly articles and the how the conversation around the monument would be framed.

“A notable list of scholars really does not impress me,” Rosen said. “There are some notable of scholars, so called, that have been writing a lot of unacceptable, un-factual, politicized history. So, when you say you’re going to have a “scholarly” publication, excuse me for feeling a little concerned about exactly who these people will be.”

Hamza Walker, the Co-curator of LAXART exhibit, said all of the scholarly articles would be peer-reviewed. He said their project is not just looking to get these monuments on loan, but they’re looking for allies in contextualizing their meaning.

“This will be an exhibit of national scope and significance. As far as it’s political nature, again, this is not for the faint of heart,” Walker said. “We can disagree ideologically about many, many things. That’s just the way of the world. . . this is the kind of dialog I want the exhibition to have.”

The proposal was also attacked from the other side, with Commission member Wilmot Fraser saying he doesn’t think the monument should be displayed at all. However, he does say this is one of the better suggestions he’s seen.

“When you look at these works that were meant to aggrandize folks who were dehumanizing other folks, we have to call a spade a spade,” Fraser said. “I thought at one point the best thing to do with the statue would be to put it in a confederate grave yard so Calhoun could take credit for the many lives that were lost in the Civil War, but this I think is a step beyond that. This gives it a new life and gives it a chance to redeem itself.”

While a recommendation from the commission is highly valued by the Charleston City Council, it isn’t required. The city has had sole ownership of the monument since 1885 when the Ladies Calhoun Memorial Association gave it the deed on September 17, 1885.

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