Che Guevara's likeness shouldn't stand at an entrance to New York's Central Park, say 10 Republican U.S. lawmakers who urged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to immediately remove the artwork they say honors the Marxist revolutionary.
The bronze sculpture by German artist Christian Jankowski has been at the Fifth Avenue and 60th Street entrance since November and is scheduled to come down May 27, said Gabby Fisher, spokeswoman for the Public Art Fund, which sponsored the artwork of which the statue is a part.
The Argentine-born Ernesto "Che" Guevara — who has been depicted in films, posters and books — abandoned a medical career and middle-class upbringing to join the Fidel Castro-led revolution that overthrew Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. A proponent of guerrilla warfare, he was executed in Bolivia in 1967.
A letter sent today by U.S. Representative Dan Burton of Indiana and co-signed by nine members of Congress, including four from Florida, where hundreds of thousands of Cuban emigres reside, describes Guevara as "an outspoken enemy of the United States" who embraced "the totalitarian, repressive policies of the Soviet Union" and once threatened to fire nuclear weapons on New York. Bloomberg News obtained a copy of the letter from Burton's office.
The statue is one of three artworks that "are not monuments to historical figures, but rather combine real and imaginary characteristics," inspired by Barcelona street performers who imitate real people, Fisher said. The city, which gave permission for the display, contributed no public funds for the exhibit, she said.
"The purpose of public art is to create dialog," Fisher said.
Public Art, which joined the city in sponsoring the widely acclaimed "Waterfalls" exhibit by artist Olafur Eliasson in the East River in October, has been hailed by Bloomberg for attracting visitors to New York and for giving residents fresh ways of experiencing and viewing their environment. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
"It is not a statue of 'Che'; it is a statue of a street performer acting as if he were 'Che,'" said Jason Post, a spokesman for the mayor.
Not according to the congressmen, whose letter said: "This man's iconic image is not a fashion statement or a piece of art to the victims and their families, but rather a horrific reminder of the brutality that was suffered at his hand."
Burton and other U.S. lawmakers heard about the statue last week, when a group of Cuban-Americans met with them to discuss human rights issues in Cuba, Burton spokesman John Donnelly said.
The other figures on display depict a street performance artist who refers to himself as "Caesar," and an "enigmatic woman inspired by a figure known as 'The Anthropomorphic Cabinet Woman,' by artist Salvador Dali," according to Public Art's Web site.
In addition to Burton, the Republican lawmakers signing the letter are: Joe Wilson of South Carolina; Ted Poe of Texas; Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Gus Bilirakis, Connie Mack and Mario Diaz-Balart, all of Florida, and from California, Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Royce.