Tag Archives: conceptual

Legacy of Destruction in Art

There is and probably always has been a close connection between music and art. What’s awesome are the strange couplings that happen between artists and rock stars (often before either were ‘stars’), especially in the 1960s (because the 60’s are fabulous). So, to start we have the most obvious…

1. Yoko Ono

Yoko Ono is of course, connected to the Beatles via John Lennon (duh). And you may be aware that Yoko is an artist in her own right- but that’s where it gets hazy right? She did some weird conceptual stuff, maybe? In fact, Yoko was a loosely affiliated member of the avant-garde group Fluxus which was established by George Maciunas in the early 60s. Fluxus art mainly consisted of performances, happenings, Flux boxes, and publications. They rejected high modernist values and art institutions, constantly undermining “Art” with a capital A. The group made important strides in experimental poetry, sound art, and film. What does this have to do with ‘Destruction’?! Yoko’s Cut Piece (1965) is a performance where she invites the audience members to cut parts of her clothing off, pretty bold and daring to allow a bunch of complete strangers handle sharp things around her. The piece breaks down social barriers while making the viewer all the more aware of them, simultaneously.

2. Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger (b. 1927) is an experimental, underground filmmaker that specializes in homoerotic and ueber-trippy effects, surrealism and the occult. He was incredibly influential to future directors like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and John Waters. So how does he fit? Well firstly, his film Kustom Kar Kommandos (1961-1965) was perhaps the first music video- a scene of a guy polishing a drag strip racing car (very suggestively I might add) with the song “Dream Lover” by the Paris Sisters in the background. To add to that, Mick Jagger (of The Rolling Stones fame) did the sound/music for Anger’s Invocation of My Demon Brother (1966-69). Anger was also bffs with Keith Richards and  (for a time) Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.

(Image is a film still from Invocation)

3. John Latham

John Latham (b. Zambia, British 1921-2006) was a conceptual artist with a big impact on performance-based work. He took part in the London Destruction in Art Symposium (1966) with such Fluxus artists as Yoko Ono (!) and Gustav Metzger. Latham constructed three giant skoob towers (books=skoob) entitled the “Laws of England” outside the British Museum and set them on fire. Connection to music? Latham also made films, in 1966, his film Speak was projected behind Pink Floyd’s live set at the International Times launch at the Roundhouse as well as a few shows in 1967. The 11 minute film is said to be an animated film with lots of strobe effects, very psychedelic. Ultimately, Latham rejected Pink Floyd fort he soundtrack of the film, instead using the sound of a circular saw cutting through books.

4. Destruction in Art Symposium and the Guitar Smash

Best for last! The Destruction in Art Symposium, as I said above, took place in London 1966 and was established by Gustav Metzger, a key figure in all things destruction related, and attended by members of Fluxus as well as other artists/etc. in London. Roy Ascott (currently an artist and theorist, and professor), was a professor at Ealing Art College in London and hung out with Metzger, attending this symposium. Ascott taught such notables as Brian Eno, Stephan Willats, Michael English, and…Pete Townshend!!! Townshend enrolled with Ascott around 1961, and performed his first guitar smash in 1964 (yes, that’s 2 years before the symposium, but the destructive art ideas were around well before). Pete Townshend,  who would go on to popularize (as well as Jimi Hendrix) the guitar smash for the rest of rock history- to the point where it’s expected and accepted to destroy you instrument. Destructive art lives! But as what? Below: Townshend guitar killing; Right: Skoob Tower

Other notable connections: Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe- and probably tons more I have missed!



Crisis in Public Sculpture: E Pluribus Unum

Recently there has been quite a stink raised by the Citizens Against Slave Image about Fred Wilson’s proposed E Pluribus Unum sculpture in downtown Indianapolis. This little controversy raises pertinent questions about the role of public sculpture in America as well as the powerlessness of the arts community as a whole when faced with any sort of opposition.

First off, who is Fred Wilson?

Wilson (b. 1954, NY) is Conceptual artist of African, Native American, European and Amerindian decent. He appropriates existing works in museums and alters their display in order to emphasize how context creates meaning. The artist juxtaposes artworks and artifacts in order to question institutional biases in the interpretation of history and aesthetic value. An example of his work is Mining the Museum (1992) at the Baltimore Historical Society in which he reorganized the artifacts to emphasize the history of slavery in America.

Fred Wilson’s proposed E  Pluribus Unum sculpture for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is an appropriation of an existing sculpture, one of a freed slave. Wilson’s project is to free the slave from the monument thus emphasizing the absence of other monuments to African Americans. The sculpture would raise a much needed discussion of race in Indianapolis and in the wider public sphere.

What’s the problem?

The Citizens Against Slave Image group held a “rally” (50 or so people) that protested the sculpture on July 30th 2011, causing the Central Indiana Community Foundation to drop the sculpture from its intended site at the City-County Building. What’s the big deal if it’s moved? Well other than the fact that it’s “site-specific,” meaning the work functions on a level that depends on the site in large part to make meaning or relevance- it’s a case of shooing a controversial, discussion-worthy piece into the nether regions of the city, away from the high traffic areas and away from the other sculptures the work was intended to comment with. According to the artist, “I have spent a long time trying to figure out a place for the work that would have some fellowship to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument and also be within downtown…the siting I thought spoke well on many different levels.”

“I assumed that if this piece was nowhere near the monument that it would fade into the background as (the figure on the monument) had for 100 years…that is a reason for having something else permanent, to think about the relationship between the past and now. So I’ll keep everything open until it’s clear that the work is compromised.” (MAN)

Mayor Ballard has felt it necessary due to the controversy that the current site would not be a suitable location. As of right now it seems like the location is the biggest issue and that it will not be installed at the City-County Building site. What does this mean? It means a handful of people not in favor of the project have the power to scare off an actually good piece of public sculpture. The majority should never have all-encompassing power, but it seems like any negativity towards an art project automatically means it gets the axe. A meaningful artwork in a public place breeds discussion, which gives rise to thought and ideas that give power back to the people. Discussion, thought and ideas are all dangerous it seems.

For more on this controversy see Tyler Green’s discussion on Modern Art Notes, in addition, the Indianapolis Museum of Art director Maxwell Anderson has also lent his support for the sculpture in the Indianapolis Star’s op-ed page which can be read here.