Collateral Damage / by Chris Hall

Michael Asher, Untitled (1991).

Michael Asher, Untitled (1991).

In recent art news, Hyperallergic wrote that Michael Asher's piece, Untitled (1991), which was installed on the University of California San Diego campus, was destroyed by a masked vandal with a sledge hammer.  The vandal also destroyed eight surveillance cameras surrounding the campus’ performing arts center.

Asher's Untitled (1991) is nothing more than a generic indoor water fountain installed outside.  Vic Viana, author of the Hyperallergic article, writes that Untitled (1991) “subverted the conventions of outdoor fountain design while also serving a practical function for thirsty students.”  So the piece is subversive, how hilarious is that?!  Mary Beebe,  director of the university's Stuart Collection of site-specific art, informs us in a video link in the article that, “Many people have a drink out of this fountain without realizing it’s art.” 

It is sad to see any work of art destroyed, even the work we don't like (in a democracy we have to be open to the opinions of others), but I have to go on record as saying this work was really, really bad.  It reminds me of Damien Hirst's cigarette butt filled ash tray that was left in a gallery and accidentally thrown out.  If you make art celebrating the mundane, indistinguishable from everyday life, you shouldn't expect the world to treat that object with any reverence or respect.  I wonder how many people have let their dogs piss on it, or how many people have stuck their chewing gum on this piece over the years?  As for my own taste in things, I believe art should aspire to transform its audience in some way.  Untitled (1991) piece purposefully blended into the background.  It didn't function as art, it functioned as a water fountain, and no amount of intellectual gymnastics will ever change that.  I would like to think the sledgehammer attacker was a conceptual art iconoclast, but no, the reality is the wrecked water fountain is nothing more than the collateral damage.  

While I would not like to go so far as to say vandalism is art, I do think the vandal's statement, knocking out the security cameras, could be interpreted as a clumsy critique on the growing acceptance of “big brother” surveillance and intrusion into our daily activities.  And, if that was indeed the intent of the campus vandal, then I would like to be the first to say that the campus vandalism was a much more subversive act than anything Michael Asher's Untitled (1991) pretended to be.