"Touching Art Has Consequences"


When we last caught up with sculptor Richard Serra at Reason, Cheryl Miller reminisced about how he much he disdained the poor office shmoes around Manhattan's Federal Plaza who had to gaze upon his "Tilted Arc" monstrosity and, like wage-slave Ozymandiases, despair:

Serra openly admitted his contempt for the site and his plans to "hold [it] hostage" with his design. At one point he derided the "weird notion that sculpture should somehow serve what are being called 'human needs.' " When officials considered moving his creation, Serra declared that his pieces were "site-specific" and could not be relocated (though he had no objection when the French government moved his Clara-Clara twice).

More on that here.

Now his audience in Seattle's Olympic Park–almost certainly ignorant of who Serra is, much less the 'tude he copped 25 years earlier in the Big Apple–is having its revenge of sorts. How? By touching and hence discoloring his sculpture "Wake," which is displayed in the popular free sculpture park run by the Seattle Art Museum. From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's account:

To date, Richard Serra's 300-ton, Corten steel sculpture, "Wake," has attracted the most finger marks, along with small scuff marks from kicks delivered low by little feet.

Nicholas Dorman, SAM's chief conservator, power-washed the prints and scuffs off the sculpture Sunday morning, after a people-packed Saturday opening….

"We want to be friendly and positive," he said, "but we're encouraging people to think before they touch, as touching art has consequences."…

"Wake" now is surrounded with admonishments not to touch it, and the volume of touches has dropped substantially, said Dorman….

The steel has a natural cycle of weathering that will darken to a dark amber and then hold that color. The oil in people's hands alters the corrosive process and changes the surface of the sculpture in ways not intended by the artist.

More here.

Consumers of art disregarding the intentions of the artist? Is that in any way worse than artists who disregard the "human needs" of their audience members? Eh, not so much. Indeed, such disregard for authorial intention, such appropriation, reappropriation, and misappropriation is simply the way the world–especially the cultural world–works.

Hat tip: Reader Paul.