This morning I came across an interesting post at Ponte Commedia, which mentions some of the mishaps and damage that have occurred to Michelangelo’s David.1 One particular event stood out to me in this post: the 1991 attack of the David by a disturbed artist, who broke off part of a toe with a hammer. This post instantly reminded me of another post from When Art History Goes Bad, which discusses the damage that has happened to Michelangelo’s Pieta (including when Laszlo Toth infamously attacked the statue with a sledgehammer in 1972). If you’re interested, you can see some footage of the attack and damage below:
I don’t know of any other sculptor whose work has caused mentally disturbed people to attack it. (But if you know of similar attacks on other sculptures, please comment! I’d be interested to learn about them.) Does Michelangelo’s work get the brunt of such attacks, since these sculptures are some of the most well-known pieces of art in the Western world? I think so. It’s sad to think that Michelangelo’s fame and artistic beauty have had such an adverse side effect.
1 You can read an amusing BBC article about some damage and restoration work on the Davidhere.
I’ve been thinking about Alexander Brener lately. You may have heard of him: he’s the Russian performance artist who in 1997 painted a green dollar sign over Malevich’s Suprematism (White Cross) (see left). Brener claimed that his gesture was protesting the role of money in the art world. The media coverage focused on the monetary damage done to the painting (which was valued at €6 million), which Brener said exactly proved his point.1
Other artists have also decided to destroy or manipulate another work of art in order to make an artistic statement or protest. If you’re interested in seeing some examples, I would recommend that you read this fascinating post. The author mentions several examples of art destruction (including the story of Mark Bridger, who spilled black ink into one of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde tanks). I learned from this post that a couple of artists have urinated on/in Duchamp’s Fountain at different times in the past two decades. Ha! I think that idea might have been clever the first time, but the repeated attempts seems a little silly.
Obviously, such destructive artistic statements go against the ethics and standards for societal conduct. But this has got me thinking: should art be ethical? I can’t bring myself to completely say yes or no. But I don’t think it’s right to encourage unethical or criminal behavior among artists. (Or do such artists think that they are exempt from the societal rules and constraints? If so, then someone should break the news that postmodernism doesn’t embrace the “artist as genius” mentality.)
But, all that being said, I do have to admit one thing: such destruction can make me think about a work of art from a new perspective. And that’s one of the things that I like most about art.
What do you think? Should art be ethical?
1 Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 184.
This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.