Yoko Ono's People Give Seattle Artist the Smackdown
by Jen Graves
on Fri, Aug 28, 2009 at 11:09 AM
Dear Amanda Mae,
Michael Darling, the curator of "Painting Under Attack" at the Seattle Art Museum, has forwarded a copy of your letter to him, and your statement about your action.
I am certain that you were motivated to do your action by fine principles and good intentions. However, I believe that you were wrong to do what you did. You acted as a kind of "art police," presuming that you knew better what the artists intention was than those many others who had either hammered a nail or added some object to the work. What you characterize as "pocket garbage" might well have been gestures of love or items of deep emotional content. Even a piece of chewing gum stuck to the surface would have had a connection to the mouth of the person who put the gum on the surface. Hannah Wilke made numerous sculptures casting chewing gum that she had chewed in gold.
There are numerous ambiguous works of art. Art is not just a linear or two-dimensional domain. Think, for instance, of Man Ray's Object to Be Destroyed, which existed for many years as an enigmatic post-Dada sculpture. At one point, a literalist took it upon him or herself to actually destroy the object. Pity, as we no longer have that original perplexing work to consider. There are only replicas. Arakawa made a painting, titled Steal This Painting. Which a group of art students did one day. But was that really the intention of Arakawa?
I think you have to consider art in a much deeper, more profound sense than you do. And also, to have greater respect for the artist, and not presume that you know what she intends. If the artist had instructed the work to be returned to its "austere" beginnings, that would have been her prerogative. But as she did not, you didn't have the right to dictate what the artist's intention was, and to rob those many people who had interacted with the work before you of their contribution to this process. A better approach would have been to contact the artist, and say how disturbed you were at the perceived change of the intention of the work, and ask whether it could be restored.
A participatory work is of course very different from a static work, and surprising things happen. So one could argue that your participation was just as justifiable as anyone else's participation. As I know that you were motivated by good intentions, I would like to think of it this way.