Cowboys vs. social sculptors

Sam Korman on negotiating the legacy of Beuys's 'social sculpture' in North America today

By Sam Korman

Group of cowboys at the annual Flint Hills Rodeo, a major cultural event at Cottonwood Falls, a nineteenth-century ‘cowboy’ town in the heart of the Kansas Flint Hills region. Licensed to public domain Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1977–80, handshake ritual with worker of New York City Department of Sanitation. Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York Andrea Sweet in Scottsdale, AZ, talking about her collection of African American memorabilia, as part of The People’s Biennial, 2010. Courtesy Harrell Fletcher Group Material, Democracy, 1988 (installation view). © the artists. Photo: Ken Schles. Courtesy Dia Art Foundation, New York Brady Sims riding Mike Miller Bucking Bulls’ Mishap during the Monster Energy Buck Off at Madison Square Garden, New York, in January 2017. Photo: Andy Watson

“I know what this is: it’s America,” I joked to my friend as the jumbotron at Madison Square Garden displayed mountain streams, hay bales in the backs of trucks, notable bridges and radiant wheat threshers mowing a field at the golden hour. As if to confirm my comment, the leathery face of a young cowboy appeared onscreen and solemnly delivered his only line: “America”. Yes, any suspicions the crowd might have had were calmed, and we could now take comfort…

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