The Fremocentrist.com Art Inventory

Exhibiting A Sense Of Humor With The Lenin Statue

an editorial by Kirby Lindsay Laney, posted 23 August 2017

 

A statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, a.k.a. Lenin, by Emil Venkov, portrays the dead tyrant in subtly unflattering ways, according to art experts.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar '13

A statue of Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, a.k.a. Lenin, by Emil Venkov, portrays the dead tyrant in subtly unflattering ways, according to art experts. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Mar ’13

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was a communist revolutionary and dictatorial despot responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people, and other reprehensible acts of violent political repression.  He died in 1924, and in 1991, his ideological politics, as practiced by the Soviet Union, collapsed.

Fremont’s Statue of Lenin was created by Slovakian artist Emil Venkov, who passed away on June 9th of this year.  Northwest local Lewis Carpenter found the statue, after the Soviet collapse, in a scrap yard while teaching English in Slovakia.  He brought it home, planning to install it in front of the restaurant he dreamed of opening.  Instead, Carpenter tragically died shortly after his return, and a consortium of Fremont artists agreed to put the sculpture on-display to sell it on behalf of his family.

Take A Joke

Since then, Fremont has done what it does with most of its art – embraced it whole-heartedly as a joke.  We ‘aimed’ the Fremont Rocket at City Hall, dressed up the ‘People Waiting’, and painted troll footprints around the neighborhood, scaring small children who feared our concrete monster had taken to nocturnal wandering.

Our Lenin statue has held political signs for the Machinists Union, a gubernatorial candidate and a few local initiatives.  He’s worn a tutu, and make-up, during Pride festivities.  He carried a burrito (shaped suspiciously like a doobie,) promoting a taco place.  And for reasons I never learned, he held a giant Pooh bear, in his hand or on his head.  He’s also worn a John Lennon mask because, I suspect, most Americans don’t have a clue who Vladimir Ilyich was.

Every December for nearly 20 years members of the Fremont community have 'decorated' the Lenin statue in Christmas lights to mark the start of the holiday shopping season.  Photo provided by the Community Steps, 2007

Every December for nearly 20 years members of the Fremont community have ‘decorated’ the Lenin statue in Christmas lights to mark the start of the holiday shopping season. Photo provided by the Community Steps, 2007

Of course, our greatest gag is on the first weekend of December, when the Lenin statue gets draped in Christmas lights (sometimes hog-tied by ‘em,) and stands-in as Fremont’s symbol of commercialism.  The annual Lenin Lighting launches the shopping season for our commercial district of small, independent businesses, and provides a party where locals dance the Chicken Dance and act generally silly.

So, it’s hard to take seriously accusations that we ‘worship’ the statue.  Fremonsters?  We haven’t got a reverential side.

The Fremont Lenin statue is a joke.  A lark.  A comic, and cosmic, poke in the eye to authoritarianism, by a community that epically fails to be serious about, well, everything.  Fremont is known for its tolerance of nearly anything, and proud of its freedom to be peculiar.

The statue is also our peace prize – see, democracy won out over communism.  That is why an aspiring restauranteur could buy the bronze bits of a communist statue and bring it to a country that symbolizes capitalism to the world.  That is why a neighborhood of quirky artists would dare to put him on display.  Art outlives politics.

Consider that our Fremont Troll doesn’t really eat VW Beetles.  The Fremont Guidepost isn’t an authority on the direction to the Milky Way or the Bermuda Triangle.  And, as much as I’d love to say our Dinosaur Topiaries really do snack on the grass alongside the canal, they aren’t real and they don’t stand as a statement on our belief, or disbelief, in the reality of dinosaurs, or topiaries.

The Fremont Lenin statue dressed up for PRIDE, in 2007.  Photo by Chauney Peck & Mike Peck

The Fremont Lenin statue dressed up for PRIDE, in 2007. Photo by Chauney Peck & Mike Peck

Is the Fremont Lenin statue a funny joke?  That’s in the funny bone of the beholder.  Some clowns adore him.  Some don’t.  As art, he’s considered borderline insulting to Vladimir Lenin.  Venkov received a commission for the statue, as all artists working under the Soviet regime did, and dragged his heels for 10 years.  When finally unveiled, Venkov had created a stern-faced representation, with neither book in hand or jauntily waving cap, but with flames or armaments nipping at Lenin’s heels.  A year after its installation, the people of Slovakia quietly pulled down the sculpture, with the end of communist rule.  The statue’s relocation to Fremont furthers the decline of Lenin, and the ascendency of the art, as we surround it with trolls, clowns, murals and dinosaurs.  It is to laugh.

But, Seriously…

On August 16th, seven people came to Fremont to deliberately create a brouhaha over a statue that’s been here since 1995.  Most Fremonsters chuckled at their efforts, but the world media and Seattle’s lame-duck mayor responded to the provocation, and gave it unwarranted legitimacy.

On August 19th, an ad on CraigsList sought actors to play ‘alt-right’ protestors, paying them to march on the statue.  Luckily, only about two people took the offer – and a third showed up to counter – effectively killing an effort by (the ad says) ‘a nationally syndicated radio show’ to give the non-story some legs.

Not a very jolly Old Saint Nick, the Fremont Lenin statue celebrates the Christmas season.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Dec '12

Not a very jolly Old Saint Nick, the Fremont Lenin statue celebrates the Christmas season. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney, Dec ’12

The statue is for sale, and is displayed temporarily until a buyer can be found.  If Ed Murray wants him removed, make an offer – but, please, I beg, not with taxpayer funds.  In the meantime, the statue does spark controversy by requiring a conversation, and education, on who Vladimir was, what he stood for, how his ideology failed, and why he was brought so low as to stand on a street-corner in a neighborhood known for its inability to take itself seriously.

A final note, in researching the arrival of the statue in Fremont in 1995, I found a list of contacts given to the press that included the name and number of the chief agitator against the installation.  The notes state, ‘He has been adamant and feels extremely strongly about this.  He has evidenced no sense of humor.’

Take a step back, take a look at our considerable collection of art in Fremont, and then take another look at the Lenin statue in its context (among small businesses and adjacent to a courtyard of mosaic tile and ‘found’ objects, a.k.a. junk.)  Fremont still has its sense of humor.  It may not be to everyone’s taste, but we never asked for the laugh, just the freedom to express ourselves.

When the Lenin statue took up music.  Photo by Brian Regan & Mike Peck, 2007

When the Lenin statue took up music. Photo by Brian Regan & Mike Peck, 2007

 


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Another Lenin statue protest, in May 2010, for May Day.  Photo by K. Lindsay Laney

Another Lenin statue protest, in May 2010, for May Day. Photo by K. Lindsay Laney

 

©2017 Kirby Laney.  This column is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws.  Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.

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