As another calendar year closes in the long haul of human history, we should look back not only on the triumphs of creative spirit and community—it’s important, also, to contemplate those acts of cultural ignorance, reprisal, and outright sadism.
And rather than those willful, constructive critiques of entrenched inequality and statuses quo, this list is meant to showcase the asinine and mostly unnecessary impulses to appropriate, purloin, deface, and destroy—actions that did little to change both the art world and broader one in which it rests.
10. Student damaged 19th century statue during selfie
Statue damaged by selfie (note the old-fashioned graffiti on the plinth); Photo: Nicola Vaglia via Time
Highlighting the self and image-obsessed directionality of contemporary subjectivities (lol), a student climbed onto the lap of Greco-Roman statue at the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan and broke off one of the legs in an attempt to take a selfie. We should, however, commend the young perpetrator for having any interest in Greco-Roman art whatsoever.
9. Public bison sculpture tipped over in Fargo
Art tipping. Courtesy of Tu-Uyen Tran/The Forum
In Fargo, North Dakota, a fiberglass statue of a bison with painted-on prairie landscapes and Native motifs was detached from the ground and knocked over. Perhaps a take on the mythologized Midwestern practice of cow tipping, the who and why of this violent undertaking against a piece of public art is still unknown.
8. Jeff Koons retrospective gets graffitied
Jeff Koons, no matter one’s opinion or taste, is the representative par excellence of art as luxury object: his mirror finish banalities sell for tens of millions of dollars, and his controversial career has stoked equal parts critical acclaim and disdain. During the hotly debated retrospective of his work at the Whitney this year, an artist named Istvan Kantor splashed a big red X (reportedly in his own blood) on the wall near Koons’ silver bunnies. Though clearly a critique of the institutional support for blue chip artists, it’s safe to say that Jeff Koons’ oeuvre is a potent exegesis of art’s excess on its own.
7. Picasso plate stolen at Art Miami
Stolen Picasso plate crime scene; Photo: Perry Stein/The Miami Herald
Demonstrating the more utilitarian of these acts—thievery for financial gain—a plate made by Pablo Picasso and valued at $85,000 was stolen from the Leslie Smith Gallery booth at the Art Miami fair in early December. Titled Visage aux Mans (Face and Hands), the silver plate was one of 20 by the Spanish master. According to Miami-Dade Police, there was no surveillance camera or witnesses. Seemingly, the thief should have done a bit more research: the plate just below the stolen one was worth over $300,000.
6. Ai Weiwei vase smashed at PAMM
The scene of the art crime at PAMM; Still from video via BBC News
In February, Maximo Caminero walked into the freshly opened Pérez Art Museum Miami during the inaugural exhibit According to What? by renowned Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Caminero—an arteest himself—picked up one of Ai’s painted vases and dropped it on the ground. He said the act was a protest against the museum’s lack of local artists (though not overflowing, work by local artists were just around the corner). He has since apologized and will have to serve community service hours and pay a $10,000 fine.
5. Prada Marfa vandalized
Prada Marfa vandalized; Photo: Tom Michael/Marfa Public Radio
In yet another act of artist-on-artist crime, Prada Marfa—the permanent installation off Highway 90 in West Texas of a simulated Prada store by Scandinavian artists Elmgreen and Dragset—was covered with blue spray paint, banners of TOMS brand shoes, and inane pamphlets proclaiming a whole lotta nothin'. Joseph Magnano, the culprit who goes by “9271977,” said that he “took an opportunistic moment to make the structure a canvas, not in any way to destroy Prada Marfa, nor vandalize but install a piece of public art relevant to contemporary culture within our current time frame, both globally and in America.” Prada Marfa has since been restored. Magnano’s artistic relevance is not currently being debated.
4. Paul McCarthy’s “Tree” sculpture goes flaccid
Paul McCarthy, Tree, Place Vendôme, Paris; Via Twitter @HauserWirth
Paul McCarthy, the 69-year-old American artist and well-known provocateur, installed a piece in Paris’ Place Vendôme titled Tree. The abstract inflatable sculpture resembled/depicted a giant butt plug—a not-so-subtle reference to the ways in which consumerism manipulates sexual desire. Harsh criticisms came from French right-wingers, followed by a group who disconnected the sculpture from its air source then cut the cables that were securing it. Not only did the artist have to remove it to prevent further damage: an unappreciative Parisian also slapped him in the face, not un, but trois times. (Read Paris writer James Loks' defense of Tree for ArtSlant here.)
3. Greenpeace activists lay a banner next to the Nazca Lines
Nazca Lines used as an advertisement; Photo: AFP/Greenpeace
Peru’s Nazca Lines site—the zoomorphic geoglyphs etched into the Earth between 400 and 650 A.D—is a cherished UNESCO World Heritage Site and totally restricted to visitors for its fragility. Greenpeace activists received much derision when they decided to lay out a banner promoting environmentalism, not to mention the Greenpeace brand. Though they claimed that they didn’t damage the lines, footprints were left throughout the area, and the organization apologized profusely.
2. Late-modern capitalism continues to ruin art
The parrot of late modern capitalism; Photo courtesy of the author
For years now, the rise of the Art Fair has been targeted for its commercial hedonism, shitty booth formatting, and wholesale lack of critical acumen. With the latest Art Basel Miami Beach in early December, it seems that the interest in what traditional fairs might offer has finally waned with the recognition that the whole affair is just a way for the organizers, galleries, and artists to make money off the growing class of bourgeoisie who thinks art is an indicator of status (duh). (Read Andrea Zlotowitz's recent essay about whether the art market makes artworks disappear here.)
1. ISIS is destroying the civilizational inheritance of the Middle East
Sufi shrine being bulldozed by ISIS; Courtesy of al-Arabiya
In the ultimate gestures of erasure and destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage, ISIS has been blowing up and bulldozing shrines, mosques, and memorials and destroying countless artifacts throughout Iraq and Syria. The chauvinist, ideological assholes have also been funding their dick-wagging terrorism through the selling of priceless art works on the black market.
For as long as humans have been creating art, there’s been the impulse to destroy it. From the Vandals who sacked Rome, to the selfishness of selfie-takers, to the structural violence of the market and state: it seems the only thing one can do is trudge on, and keep creating to replace what’s been lost.
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