Monumental Cares

Mechtild Widrich
Institute of Fine Arts and Media Art, Site Specific Art
2022S, Vorlesung und Übungen (VU), 3.0 ECTS, 3.0 semester hours, course number S04238


Amidst public debate concerning problematic monuments, we are in urgent need of a geographically broad and historically deep understanding of monuments and memorials. We will look at the complicated relationship between monuments, history, the public, and free speech; learn about their historical development since the French Revolution, the various endeavors by artists and activists to democratize public art, the rise of counter-monuments, living memorials, performance as a site of memory and resistance, as well as various practices of vandalism, parody, and subversion.

How does the Black Lives Matter Movement relate to activism against the statues of Columbus or confederate generals? Why did the bronze statue of a Korean girl lead to a diplomatic crisis with Japan? Why is public history important, and do we need physical signs in public space? Who has the power to put up objects of commemoration in public space and which alternatives are there? The course will emphasize historical grounding but also rigorous thinking about new forms of commemoration.

Examination Modalities

Participation, a manifesto (1-2 pages), a short research paper (2-4 pages), presentations during the excursions and about the research paper.


Please make sure to pay attention to the meeting days/times. The course will be presented at the kick-off of the Department of Site-Specific Art on Thursday, March 3rd, 2022 at 10 a.m. at Paulusplatz 5 in 1030 Vienna.  All questions regarding the course can be discussed there. There are two meetings on zoom in April, for which you will have to watch and read material in advance. 



Location: Seminarraum Ortsbezogene Kunst, Paulusplatz, 1030 Wien


March 3, Kick-Off 10-12

March 4, In Person 10am-12:00pm Introduction / Einführung

Reading in Class: Robert Musil, On Monuments, 1927. The text is available in German and English. I will provide the text during class.


Thomas Macho, “Die Bedeutung von Denkmaldebatten,” 2020.


March 4, In Person 1:00-3:00pm The International Debate / Die internationale Diskussion

Reading: Achille Mbembe, “Decolonizing Knowledge and the Question of the Archive”, (2015).

Recommended: Thomas Stubblefield, “Iconoclasm beyond Negation. Globalisation and Image Production in Mosul (Aggregate, December 2016).


March 5 In Person 10am-2pm Seminar and Excursion

Details tba


April 1, 2-4pm (on zoom) From Totalitarian Crisis to Counter-monument

There are several asynchronous parts of the class. Please finish the reading assignment before we meet on zoom.


Reading: Mechtild Widrich, “Introduction. What is a performative monument”, Performative Monuments. The Rematerialisation of Public Art (Manchester University Press, 2014), 1-9.


Sigfried Giedion, “The need for a new monumentality” [1944].


April 2, 2-4pm (on zoom) The Confederate Monument Debate


Please finish the reading assignment before class.

Dell Upton, Confederate Monuments and Civic Values in the Wake of Charlottesville, online


Caroline Goldstein, “Charlottesville’s Divisive Robert E. Lee Statue Will Be Melted Down to Create New Public Artwork,” Art Net, 2021


Suggested Reading: Kirk Savage, “Slavery’s Memorial”, in Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves. Race, War and Monument in 19thcentury America (Princeton University Press, 1997), 129-161.


May 13, In Person 2-5 Responsibility and Care

Reading: Rangsook Yoon, “Erecting the ‘Comfort Women’ Memorials: From Seoul to San Francisco”, dearte 2018.

6pm Public Roundtable with Nicole Six/Paul Petritsch, Elke Krasny, Mechtild Widrich, Vordere Zollamtsstraße 7


May 14 In Person 10-2 (with student presentations)

May 16 In Person 2-5 Excursion Nordwestbahnhof

Reading tbd.

May 18 In Person 2-5 Commemorating the Pandemic, Theories of Site and Place

Reading Britta Shoot, The Rare Challenge of Building a Pandemic Monument, The City Monitor, June 2020.



Key Words

Monumente, Denkmaldebatte, Partizipation, Monuments, Participation, Art in Public Space, Public Sphere, Öffentlichkeit, art in public space


03 March 2022, 10:00–12:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Kick-Off Event" (preliminary discussion)
04 March 2022, 10:00–12:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Introduction"
04 March 2022, 13:00–15:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "The International Debate"
05 March 2022, 10:00–14:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Meeting and Excursion Monuments Vienna"
01 April 2022, 14:00–16:00 , "Join Zoom Meeting (Performative Monuments and interim reports by students)"
02 April 2022, 14:00–16:00, "Join Zoom Meeting (Monument Debate in the US)"
13 May 2022, 14:00–17:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Responsibility and Care, Materials and Preservation"
14 May 2022, 10:00–14:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Meeting with students and presentations"
16 May 2022, 14:00–17:00 Am Tabor 2:15pm details in class , "EXCURSION: Excavations of Lost Memories. Nordwestbahnhof, curated by Michael Hieslmair and Michael Zinganel "
18 May 2022, 14:00–17:00 Seminar Room Site-Specific Art and Sculpture and Space , "Commemorating the Pandemic, Theories of Site and Space"

Course Enrolment

Via online registration

Fine Arts (2. Section): Artistic and Research Practice: Free Electives out of Artistic and Research Practice 605/201.80

Co-registration: not possible

Attending individual courses: not possible