The Venkov Lenin: the Bizarre Fate of a Communist Era Statue January 9, 2014Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback
Picture borrowed from Vacilando, a useful source for information on Lewis Carpenter
There are some great stories about Lenin statues and busts, including Lenin in Antarctica, a post featured on this blog a couple of years ago. For now though let’s turn to one of the most travelled of all the statues of the man who: almost lost the First World War for the western democracies; who introduced society-destroying communism into an unstable county; and who installed Stalin in the Kremlin. The Venkov Lenin has had, to say the least, an interesting history. Emil Venkov was (and we hope is) a Bulgarian sculptor. He was born in 1937 and resided for much of his life in Slovakia. In the late 1970s Venkov was commissioned to create a Lenin in bronze in Poprad, in what was then eastern Czechoslavakia. Venkov had lived through the Prague Spring and can have had no illusions about the evil empire and its satraps: in fact, there is one impressive bronze by Venkov entitled ‘Delusion’ dating to 1968, a significant year. But he had a job to do and set about humanising the greatest Euro-Asian serial killer since Genghis Khan: though the devil is made to walk out of bronze flames with guns in them. The statue was finished after ten years work in 1988, but was then rapidly removed from public display when Czechoslovakia threw off alien rule with its Velvet Revolution. Talk about bad timing, Emil.
So far so normal. Perhaps the only exceptional thing in the biography of the Venkov Lenin was that it was not smashed into little pieces by furious crowds remembering the time that the StB (Czech gestapo) slapped a son or forced a confession out of parent: but then smashing bronze into little bits is a challenge for even the best intentioned of mobs. The local scrapyard was, however, happy to break it into little bits professionally and so we say goodbye to the Venkov Lenin. But no! Wait! Enter from left stage an American maverick teaching English in Popov, Lewis Carpenter. Lewis was born in Texas in 1971 and would be today in his early 40s: we’ll come back to that ‘would’ in a moment. LC saw the bronze ready for disolution and decided to intervene. Paying 12,000 dollars and passing through the hell of negotiating with local communist-era officials he finally managed to ship the statue out of the country for a further exobitant fee. His logic seems to have been: ‘this might be the statue of a schmuck, but this is art and should be preserved!’ Right or wrong – and there is no question that Venkov was talented – Lewis put his money where his mouth was and mortgaged his house to get Lenin shipped state-side, perhaps remembering the great number of ultra leftist Americans who would be prepared to empty their bank accounts to have Lenin in their driveway (irony).
Now the statue had to be sawn into bits by Venkov (what did its creator feel?) and was then brought to Washington state where LC’s family were based – it had to pass through the Panama Canal and presumably sailed within cruise-missile-firing distance of Cuba. Life being like that, LC had a car accident and died on the local Stevens Pass not long after the statue had arrived: exit Lewis from right stage. The statue, then, remained in the back yard in small pieces (was there a swimming pool?) until local Peter Bevis stepped in to help the family. PB spent a good deal of his own money putting Lenin back together again: though he lacked all the king’s horses. He, then, organised for the statue to be publicly displayed in Fremont while the family were waiting for a buyer. (They are still waiting, incidentally, and want quarter of a million dollars.) Locals had understandably mixed feelings about the arrival of the Red Tsar on their side-street. At the opening ceremony one man stood up at the microphone and shouted: ‘this man killed my family!’ But Beach likes to think of this from the perspective of Lenin, who would see liberal left-leaning Fremont as his version of hell: at least in Orange County he’d get some grudging respect. Indeed, perhaps only the statue of Lenin in Las Vegas has it worse, though Fremont Lenin has to put up with a Taco restaurant at his feet so it is a close run thing.
Not that the locals haven’t tried to make Lenin feel welcome. They deck him up for Gay Pride as a crossdresser (above); they put glittery things on him for summer solstice (wth!); for a while he had to hold a Winnie the Pooh teddybear; oh and every Christmas he gets covered in lights (below). Then there will also be the parade of well-intentioned youths talking at Lenin’s feet about how ‘he wasn’t like all that bad, man…’ with a passable imitation at Cheech and Chong. Enough to make even bronze blood boil: ‘but I killed hundreds of thousands of the Bourgeoisie and I broke the false consciousness of the people!’ Think of it as retribution, Vlad:
Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small.
Any other public art with an unusual history behind it? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com
In browsing through Lenin material this morning I came across this brilliant series of Lenin images with taylor’s dolls.’.
9 Jan 2014: EC writes in ‘Just a note to inform your readers that Fremont is not a separate town in Washington state but a neighbourhood of the city of Seattle. I once lived not twenty blocks from the Venkov Lenin. The Solstice Parade was/is a surviving bit of hippie fun in the once-bohemian, now rather expensive Fremont. Wealthy software engineers relax in Lenin’s shadow…’ Thanks EC!
10 Jan 2014: Invisible writes: Mortgaged his house? Tragic for him not to see the dressed-up murderer’s statue. Here’s a bit of Soviet whimsey: I’ve written to you before about Januarius Aloysius MacGahan, The Liberator of Bulgaria. His Soviet-style statue stands (or rather, strides) in the small Ohio town of New Lexington–in about as much of a small-town- cliche landscape as you will find anywhere. It’s a complete clash of styles: Think a Lenin newsreel vs. The Music Man: (1) and (2). Thanks Invisible!