Art and Vandals: ‘The Falling Angel’

Susana Gómez Laín

The sculpture of The Fallen Angel at Plaza del Ángel Caído, in the Retiro Park in Madrid (Spain). Created in 1877 and cast in bronze for Universal Exposition in Paris. Work by Ricardo Bellver (1845-1924), a Spanish sculptor.
Photo by Thermos

Lately, the coronavirus world pandemic and social riots of all kinds have been the excuse for too many vandals to behead, daub, overturn, vilify, revile, insult, degrade – I run out of words and synonyms – many statues and busts are erected to commemorate the glory of some historical characters of all ideologies and walks of life, as well as for the celebration of art and history. This is not new. It has happened before occasionally and has been as focused but never as widespread as is happening at present.
These acts are criminal, they are called vandalism and express a vile part of the human character: the intolerance, the ignorance, the violence, the indolence, in short, evil when compared to what art represents in its ability to liberate the spirit which can turn on history and re-evaluate its icons. As to all these broken monuments let us concentrate upon their artistic merits and drop any other connotations they may have. They don’t have to represent anything other than art if we don’t wish them to.
If we object to the past and the too many chapters of history that we should object to – which we all do – the way to protest is constructing, not destroying, and art is the very medium to help us achieve this, evolving the best not the bestial part of our characters.
Every nation and everyone has skeletons in the wardrobe. Who is going to throw the first stone? What are we teaching our kids and youngsters? The fake news that ‘barbarians never evolved or became civilized’? To learn from mistakes and overcome them is the only way not to repeat them. Ideologies, ways of thinking and what is wrong and right in a society changes constantly and may take a long or a short time. Behaviours that were criminalized or rejected in the past are now decriminalized or accepted as the best, and with other behaviours it is the other way round. There will always be dissidents and minorities with other opinions with whom we have to live and whom we have to respect in their own contexts.
If we follow the radicals everytime, we should change most of our monuments, names of streets and other icons every 20 years at least. That would be nonsense. Our past has been the foundation of our future and in that way we should respect it. And in almost everything there is good and bad in some proportion. Our achievements, born out of our wrongs.
Consequently those radicals would have us demolish marvellous things like the Pyramids, the Colosseum, Trajan’s Column, the Tower of London, Versailles Palace, Toledo’s Cathedral, the White House, the Kremlin and Courts of Justice all over the world, among a myriad of other examples of historic barbarism, social injustice and political misjudgements. We should censor and ban many works of art, books, films, writers, musicians, and an endless so on. Wouldn’t it be better to explain the past and leave it there and look for a brighter more intellectual future and let art help along in this task?
Lucifer, the devil, the supposed epitome of evil, was an angel before his fall, and in 1885 in Spain, a totally Catholic country, a very popular black statue in the center of Madrid, in Retiro Park was erected, called The Falling Angel. A nice story for the grannies to explain to grandchildren while strolling. A story of forgiveness. A celebration of what we are here to overcome.

Volume 35 no 2 November / December 2020

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