The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Age of Destruction

Since we museum-y types tend to be pretty gung-ho about preserving things (everything! for all time!) I thought this was an interesting discussion of vandalism of art and cultural heritage. Thoughts?

6 comments:

Elee said...

I haven't listened to the broadcast yet, but an initial thought after reading the article, is that this reminds me very much of an incident in Birmingham a few years back. In Centenary Square, there used to be an unlovely piece of public art called "Forward". Made from fibreglass, it had a distinctly pseudo-communist feel to it (Amy will shudder in horror!). Anyway, one Easter, someone took it upon themselves to rid Centenary Square of "Forward" by putting a match to it. And while I felt a bit sad that someone would do that at all, I was kind of glad that if they had to destroy any of Birmingham's public art, that was the piece they chose!

There are some before & after pics here... http://www.bplphoto.co.uk/galleries/forward.html

In stark contrast, when the statue of the Bull, by the Birmingham Bullring, was vandalised by being scratched a couple of years ago, people were so upset they left flowers and poems by it!

Going back to the issue of destruction for the sake of art, I think part of the issue is that the aim for a lot of artists is to push limits. However, this is also the aim for people who want to violently rebel against society for other reasons. Given that both are intentional, and presumably carried out by people of sound mind, I do feel a bit as if artists shouldn't have any more right to destroy things than anyone else!

That said, I think it can also be very interesting to wreck things, and we do get very precious about "Stuff", don't we? So challenging a bit of that preciousness can probably be a good thing now and again...

As long as they don't destroy anything I like! ;)

Jenny said...

Oh, I remember the burning of Forward. I really didn't like that statue, but I didn't like the mentality behind the destruction. I don't agree with wanton vandalism at all.

However, I do have more truck with those who can give an explanation for what they did. How valid those explanations are is something that perhaps is totally subjective.

A closing thought - active destruction of public pieces gets more press than the slow degeneration of neglected items languishing in private collections and public museums, or the everyday careless destruction which we inflict on our personal possessions, which we often deem of little value. If we are worried about the loss of history, which is worse?

Elee said...

Good point Jenny - the vandalism is often one-off, while neglect can happen to vast quantities of items, simply by not thinking about them very much!

I've listened to the show now, which was really interesting. I'm looking forward to part two next week. The destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas always seems particularly sad. It does raise some interesting questions about collections, and also the value we often place on art over people.

Amy said...

Listening to the radio programme at the moment. How bizarre that the National Gallery wouldn't allow an interview in front of the attacked Velasquez! Surely that event (way back in 1914) is part of the history of the piece, it's cultural integrity? Why deny it?

Jenny said...

Amy - interesting, isn't it, that destruction can create?

J said...

Theft is also an interesting issue - it's a vandalism of the museum as public institution. The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston had some of its masterpieces (including a Rembrant, IIRC) stolen, and empty frames hang in their place while the labels have a photo of the piece and a story about the thefts... That disappearance has become a history of the building.