Monday, February 23, 2009

OPINION: What makes art vandalism happen?

Question submitted by Janet Van Fleet
Responses will be posted as they are received and may be lightly edited.

An issue that keeps coming back to my mind has to do with vandalism of artworks. This is most commonplace in outdoor installations, where I think perhaps some people have the sense that what's outside is fair game. If you left it lying around, it belongs to the community. I am particularly interested in reading perspectives that may help explain the motivation to vandalize. Is it a kind of collaboration? Is it a political act?

Here is a case from my own experience, and only one example of many times my work has been vandalized:

On the night of September 25, 2005 my large sculpture, Teapot Dialogue, was destroyed by vandals in front of Café Piccolo in Burlington, Vermont. The piece, which had been awarded second place for Art Hop outdoor sculpture, showed two groups of wooden teapots facing off over a line on a dining room table (see piece and then its remains at left).

My response was to post (see at right) a statement headlined CONVERSATION NOT OVER, stating, in part:

I find it significant that this happened on the weekend of massive anti-war protests in Washington, D.C. and across the country, continuing a (rather one-way) dialogue about how our country should respond to violence, destruction, and perceived and actual threats.

Also on this weekend, my daughter, Anna Berrian Eno-Van Fleet, was evacuated from Golden Meadow, Louisiana, where she had been working (through Veterans for Peace) with the United Houma Nation to repair homes that were damaged by Hurricane Katrina. While the tribe was evacuated to Raceland, Hurricane Rita wiped out all the work they had done and completely destroyed several communities. So, another story of destruction. What can you do?

I went on to suggest that donations be sent to the United Houma Nation Relief Center, and finished by saying

Something cruel and completely gratuitous happened to me in the destruction of my artwork, but I am not interested in vengeance or retaliation. I would rather continue the dialogue by doing something positive that works to repair what has been damaged. I hope you will join me.

Many donations were sent to Louisiana, but the issue of vandalism and the questions it raises are still with us. If you have thoughts about this, send them along.

Send your responses (at least 100 words please -- we don't want you to just toss off a one-liner) to