2 (1999), Nr.4/Dezember

L'art philosophique

2. Remarks Concerning a Theory of the Monument, with Reference to Riegl and Nietzsche. Dedicated to the imminent inauguration of Rachel Whiteread's monument at Judenplatz/Vienna. 13466 Zeichen


A monument usually is a thing of large size, larger than the viewer looking at it. Assigned by a particular community or person for the purpose of worship, contemplation, intimidation, or solemnity, its meaning is related to the past in the sense of the memory of a person, a group of persons, or an event to be re-presented. Authorized by the community or person who represents the commission, the monument finds its place in public space, where it can be seen or heard by anyone passing by or viewing it intentionally.

Public Space

Empty and open space is required. Visibility is implied by the size of the object. This kind of an empty physical space and its concept do not occur before modernity. At stake is an intersection of an empty centered space and the specific space of the product having been shaped in the process of material production and assuming aesthetic space including an aura-like aesthetic surrounding. In the case of monuments physical space cannot be separated from the space of political representation. Physical space never - at least within the reach of social, for instance urban settings - has been without political connotation (of property, disciplinary rules, communities' activities). But it is only with the Renaissance epoch that the perspectival construction of urban space leads to an undecidability of whether the external point of view belongs to the constructing artist, to the individuals or group the artist is a part of, or to the political sovereign represented (e.g. by person). Historically sooner or later it is a matter of fact given by, for example, of particular town structure and the transferring of it to the planning of entire spaces like the French Garden, that the commission for a monument is conferred by the city's administration or the government. Therefore monuments ly within the sphere of political representation not by virtue of contents but of the mode of the urban environment's organisation. On the other hand the conceptual and imaginary space of artistic production - in modern times often considered as being essential to the monument - had to emancipate itself from certain given circumstances. The singular, discrete aesthetic object had to be untied from extensive architectural formations as for instance the church, the court, and the palace. This had to be done in order to be treated and perceived as an independent sculpture. Implied is that the relation beween the object and its architectural environment is gradually dissolved in terms of color, shape, pictorial representation, contents, narration. In the course of historical development objects can be displayed increasingly in bearing significance in themselves, not representing the contents of superior orders. Regardless of the community's functions, the object can be exhibited anywhere according to painting at the end of the medieval age conceptually only being site-specific not any more. In this way aesthetic space is perfectly conceived of and subsumed as to the agendas of the artist.

The Sublime

Besides colossal architecture, the genres of the monument and, in the 19th century, of panoramatic painting are crucial for an art of the sublime. Magnitudo and quantitas meet each other for an art of the mathematical sublime, for instance in the pyramid (Kant). With the emergence of the monument one form of the sublime has been appropriated since as well as a new dimension is added to our sentiment of the sublime. Concerning contents to be represented the sublime may be transferred and superimposed to the greatness of a meaningful historical event. The consequence is that the monument, along with the museum invented approximately at the same time, might take over part of the heritage of an art of the memory. That part is meant that was conceived of as to represent great men, moral and religious leaders and founders of religions in front of the outermost circle of houses in Campanella's Città del sole, to be re-placed - one might say in a historically prospective way - into the city's center, a temple showing the relationships from the stars to the things of the world (Yates).


The end of pictorial representation in painting and sculpture - dissolving one component of the monument's structure - goes hand in hand with the crisis of political representation at the Fin de siècle. From that time on few works have been created - by artists (not architects) - in the genre of monument. Whereas art with and after the Russian Revolution of 1917 has been put in the service of political reform, the utopian political claims seem to have become superfluous with regard to pictorial and sculptural representation. Dan Flavin's "Untitled (Monument to V. Tatlin)" of 1975 is also, by means of allusion to Russian artist Tatlin's "Monument to the Third International", a monument to the monument, to the monument's fading representative power. The vanguard Bilderverbot applies to the time that succeeded art movements or new schools at the turn of the century - as political as their programs may have been. This change is connected with the increasing activity of projecting and anticipating new aestetical worlds and the rejection of being subordinated to paying honour to past heroic moments. Paradoxically this may have changed with the breakdown of the legitimation of the autonomy of sculpture and easel painting in the 1960s again. What is considered to be pathetic theatricality in art after abstract expressionism (Fried), what in the opposite later will be termed as resurrection of ornament and site-specific work in the context of weak ontology (Vattimo), draws the attention of artists to the perception of spaces being relevant for our communities' life-worlds again. Monuments get a second chance.


Whereas the modernist monument was virtually representative for a whole society, the monument in postmodernism cannot claim to be representative but for singular communities. The most recent tendency in diminishing, even distancing the dimension and conceptuality of aesthetic/artistic quality and reinforcing community-specific linguistic expressions instead seems to indicate that direction. But discourse needs to be situated at a different level. The monument could still fulfil a modern condition: an offensively stimulated democratic discussion about the monument itself to be erected. Insisting upon the convergence of public sphere and public space, can go asfar as to call this practice a monument itself be it spatially realized or not (Brock). Art for an open society fundamentally, if not community could precisely mean that.


For Alois Riegl, nothing seems to be said about monuments in particular. What Riegl thinks of "Denkmalskult", the cult of the monument, is bound to a description of the properties of an artifact proper and the aspects of its use. Monuments are works that keep in the minds of future generations deeds and fates. Included are artifacts in archives and the like not on display in Museums or at public places. For Riegl there are historical and art monuments, and since art works are audible or touchable works with artistic value and historical works are works with historical value and historical monuments works with aesthetic value respectively (both being causally determined and therefore witnesses for developments in specific periods), a monument can be perceived as historical and artistic as well. This distinction does equally not hold as the one between monuments of art and monuments of writing. Therefore Riegl goes on to analyze a variety of values being more or less incorporated in the material object of the monument and our perception of it. Basically at work are the values of art and memory. The former is opposed to the latter because artistic values (contents, form, colour) are themselves historic and dependent on contemporary valuation. We can only see an old (art) work with our (modern) eyes, therefore so called objective aesthetics can only be taken as part of our present perception. The are three values of memory and three of the present. In historical order, the value of age is followed, replaced, overlayed, added by "historical" value (the power of representing a period of development) and by the value of intended remembering. On the other side there are the values of the present, that is the value of use and the value of art the latter consisting of the value of novelty (closedness of an object anew, the elementary value of art) and the value of art relative to the will to art (Kunstwollen). What Riegl wants to say is that there are several conflicting values in different historical ways. These vlues result in a dynamic theory of the monument. For instance, the historical value (the intended value even more so) requires preservation whereas the value of age cannot be conceived of if we do not allow and enjoy a process of aging and decay. Or, the value of use allows, even may necessitate modification of an architectural entity along with historical reconstruction whereas the value of art (closed entity) calls for an overall convincing mode of colours. Now, from the examples given it is clear that the art historian Riegl, in thinking of monuments, associates works of architecture, painting and written documents and gives occasionally judgements about the given historical setting and the context of a particular problem. Besides, he pleads, writing in 1903, for versatile argumentation under the auspices of a contemporary Kunstwollen that is not forced to make historicist compromises. However he does not speak of contemporary monuments, non-architectural sculptural monuments to be produced in general and in particular - there is only one of 50 pages devoted to them (about the modernity of historicist churches). He could not have, since monuments were out. The completion of the Ringstraße and its buildings in late 19th century placed in a pedestal-like way had become a monument in itself.


There are two famous theoretical contributions for a theory of the monument,Nietzsche's and Riegl's. For Friedrich Nietzsche, history belongs to living people insofar as they are active and fighting for ideas under way (not preserving and worshipping or only desiring liberation) and need ideals in terms of models. Our (historicist) times, Nietzsche thinks, do not provide with a naturally encouraging cultural and social environment. History in this sense is necessary to protect from superficial tourism and from resignation as well. In this monumentalist view of history historical deeds, according to Nietzsche, are perceived as human, when they reach a value of eternity. Studies of the classical and the rare are undertaken because of finding the possibilities for achieving the great. However, monumentalist history in its logical consequence requires remembering the particular past in its entirety and, in this sense, an eternal return of these deeds. Therefore monumental history encloses an unrepeatability of deeds in principle. This problem is not thought of, if one usually only thinks of a collection of effects without considering its brute causes, thereby the motives being beautified and transfigured. When the monumentalist view, Nietzsche warns, subordinates the antiquarian preserving view and the critical judging view, the danger is high to reduce the past into singular adorned facts. And in deceiving by means of constructing analogies to the present, the examples of effects without causes mislead the artistically lesser gifted - Nietzsche conceives of the innovative person as being artistic - to reject art - produced of a kind of innovative persons - not yet recognized as great (monumental) in the name of good taste and connoisseurship. No doubt that in analyzing the monumental, Nietzsche confronts himself with a culture full of monuments, the historicist culture of later 19th century. In demonstrating a paradoxon within the very nature of every monument, the intellectual within the philologist Nietzsche does not consider the spatial aspects of a physical embodiment in sculpture in particular. Nonetheless it becomes evident that his search is occupied with new deeds and works. By liberating the space of thought from a future endangering the old for the sake of what would be later termed by him as the creations from the Übermensch and as the individualist eternal return of the same, Nietzsche is as modern in his times as to not consider whether and how a society has to memorize in the medium of public space. We may share Nietzsche's critique of historicism, for instance as far as concerning the monumental. But his individualist modernity is not ours anymore. The idea of artists as a special kind of artistic humans seems only to be held if we still can think of an artist's sovereignty who subordinates whatever to subordinate in order to result in historically valuable deeds to become monuments in prospective cultural memory. The more important point of criticism ought to be the following. Nietzsche does, in this context, only consider life but not the death of human beings suffered by historical deeds undertaken in the name of the monumental. This death, it may be assumed, Nietzsche would not have acknowledged as he would not have contested the legitimate fact that societies do not allow monuments to be erected that remind of the deeds of murderers. However, as far as the negative of deeds goes - death - , Nietzsche, in insisting upon the individual against the homogeneity of a society, did not take into account the division of cultures and societies into groups, the one opposing, subjeting, exploiting, combatting, extincting the other. This, given at a late point of modern times, opens the possibility of monuments in the name of social integration


There should be a way for monuments today. Keeping in mind the criticalperspectives of Nietzsche and Riegl to which no way leads back in toto and in an unmodified way, we need to focus upon few essentiel projects. Given the fact that public space is overloaded with advertisement and meaningful architecture in the positive or in the negative, the question remains: What is essential? Notwithstanding different solutions that need to be artistic by the awareness of minimalist virtues, it seems to be more and more important to incorporate into the work and its preparatory phase theoretical points of view. We do not have an aesthetics of the monument as we do not have, with the exception of the Holocaust and similar catastrophies, representative important deeds and fates in our recent times. It is crucial to keep discussions going about contents - be it with or without monuments - , about the eminent chapters of 20th centeru that amount to more or less general values for contemporary and future societies. Having more experience with monuments today than hundred years ago we know better that monuments can achieve the effect not of memory but of forgetting what not ought to be forgotten.

Bazon Brock, Ästhetik als Vermittlung, Köln: Dumont 1977

Michael Fried, Art and Objecthood, in: Gregory Battcock (Hg.), Minimal Art. A Critical Anthology, New York: E. P. Dutton & Co. Inc. 1968, p.117-147

Immanuel Kant, Critik der Urtheilskraft, 2. Aufl., Berlin: F.T. Lagarde 1793, p.80ff.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Vom Nutzen und Nachteil der Historie für das Leben (1874), in: ders., Werke I, hg. v. Karl Schlechta, = Ullstein Buch 2907, Frankfurt am Main/Berlin/Wien: Ullstein 1972, p.209-285, in particular p.219-225

Alois Riegl, Der moderne Denkmalskultus, sein Wesen, seine Entstehung (Einleitung zum Denkmalschutzgesetz), Wien: Braumüller 1903; wieder in: ders., Gesammelte Aufsätze, hg. v. Karl M. Swoboda, Augsburg/Wien: Dr. Benno Filser 1929, p.144-193

Gianni Vattimo, Ornament (als) Denkmal, in: ders., Das Ende der Moderne, hg. u. übers. v. Rafael Capurro, = UB 8624, Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. 1990, p.86-97, p.95

Francis A. Yates, Tha Art of Memory, Chicago-IL: The University of Chicago Press 1974, p.297f.

(c) Peter Mahr, 1999