German artist, born in Berlin. He has lived in Paris since 1965. Originally associated with Conceptual art, he has tried to apply the valuing of process and idea over object, which marked vanguard practice in the late 1960s, to the problem of the memorial: he has been specifically concerned with the public commemoration of the Holocaust. For the Monument Against Fascism, War and Violence—and for Peace and Civil Rights (1986, Harburg, Hanover) he and his wife, Esther Shalev-Gerz, spurned the site offered in a park for an ordinary street near the civic centre. They erected a column in lead. The public were invited to make their own inscriptions on it (the artists accepted that there would be occasional racist comments) and it was engineered so that as it was covered with writing it would gradually sink into the ground, becoming invisible; this finally happened in 1993. Afterwards there was visible only a small plaque inscribed ‘Nothing in the long run can replace our own protest against injustice’. Gerz said that ‘What we did not want was an enormous pedestal with something on it telling people what they ought to think.’ The concept of the invisible monument was taken further in the project in the forecourt of Saarbrucken castle, which Gerz and his students carried out in 1990–93. Gerz researched the names of 2,146 Jewish cemeteries that had been destroyed by the Nazis. The names were inscribed on cobblestones, which were then reinserted into the paved path so that the visitor would not know which they were. The artist has described the invisibility of the stones as an ‘intellectual challenge’ and as a protective measure against defacement. However, some Jewish groups objected to the work as a literal attempt to bury the past.
S Michalski, Public Monuments (1997)