Thursday, 1 December 2011

The Richard Serra Skate Park": Progressive Art Vandalized by Regressive Policy

By K.L.M. Becker

The poster uses two specific cases to illustrate instances of vandalism that have occurred in the public sphere by governing officials. The aim is to increase public awareness of the purposeful destruction of art and to encourage greater acceptance of conceptual art. The two cases presented are Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc (1981) and Crocheted Olek’s crocheted Charging Bull (2010); both art site specific, outdoor public works in New York City.

K.L.M. Becker, the author of this poster, will comment on her motivations to pursue this topic below. 


  1. I was inspired to explore this topic by a line from a Vampire Weekend song that has always stuck with me: "The Richard Serra skate park." The song, White Sky, has several other interesting lines that further explore the role of modern art and the variability of perception. I have also always taken notice of public, outdoor sculpture. However, my awareness has not always been attached to admiration. Coming from an Art Historical background, I feel compelled to appreciate public art, but I am often left wondering what is the purpose. So, the idea of sculpture as a skate park, especially the work of infamous Serra, was always amusing and provoking for me. Once the poster project was announced and we were told that the general topic was vandalism, I immediately knew that I wanted to explore the role of public sculpture and the ways the public then choose to use it. In the beginning, there were many sub-topics and diverse examples that I wanted to discuss, from sitting in Henry Moore's to the blurring of lines between sculpture and utilitarian structures with the advent of post-modern art. However, the main goal of the project was to create a poster that could be used at conventions or information sessions, so I narrowed my scope to the destruction of outdoor sculpture by the ruling body. This still very much falls within the realm of public use, and is destructive by definition rather than interpretation.

    Two mainstream, well-documented cases of 'legal' destruction stood out: Richard Serra's Tilted Arc (which I had studied briefly in undergrad in a course on the History of Museums through the text - Visual Shock my Michael Kammen) and Crocheted Olek's Crocheted Charging Bull on Wall St. The images of both are compelling and require little description, though the situations surrounding them are much more complex. I also used an image taken by skater/photographer Raphael Zarka, which is one of a series of images that has been internationally exhibited. I felt that Zarka's approach to art is actually quite similar to Serra's and Olek's, but I also wanted to include the image for its continuity with the title and for a bit of a shock factor. A poster on vandalism + someone wall riding a Serra sculpture is expected to = skating sculpture is bad. However, that is not at all what the poster is about. Instead, it supports a much more accepting view of the role of art in society. The alternative leads to these two (and plenty more) cases where an unsatisfied minority of people can then censor art for the rest of society and without artist consent. Though people may feel that the British Museum is superior to the Tate Modern, or the Met to MOMA, that has not allowed for the destruction of these collections. However, outside of the protection of an institute (figuratively and literally), the art world failed Serra and continues to fail Crocheted Olek. I wanted my poster to increase awareness of the issues that can result from a lack of protective legislation and public involvement in the hopes that future attempts to remove and destroy public art are not allowed to go forward without serious discussion amongst all affected parties.

    Since finishing the poster, I have continued to follow Crocheted Olek's work through her Facebook page. She has recently returned to Poland for a brief period of time and has been installing work there, as well as collaborating with other modern artists to create other forms of street art. Recently, one of her sculptures was burned by vandals. Yesterday, she announced that the two vandals had been apprehended and that rather than pressing charges or asking for monetary compensation she asked them (and they agreed) to knit scarves for the homeless. It is funny that this is the artist against whom the New York city park officials appear to be campaigning.

  2. I think this is a really interesting concept Kate. It has made me look into Crocheted Olek's work so thank you on that point for broadening my horizons!

    For me, perhaps what stands out is the lack of so-called "permission" in regards to this type of art. Olek's bull for example was removed because it was her personal statement or gift to the public, rather than something that was created in partnership with those who own/take of the statue. BUT as you say, the bull itself was also deposited without permission.

    Perhaps it is the idea that the bull itself was already a statement and an object of art which saw the negativity towards the Oleks art initially. To keep Olek's work on the bull would have altered the first statement of the bull and prevented those who enjoyed the aesthetics of the bull as a statue from doing so, in that way should it/could it have ever been anything other than temporary art? It is interesting as street art often divides opinion because of differing tastes and how you understand the art. I like the crochet work, my dad on the other hand would not!

    I think in regards to public art there is the issue that anyone can be an artist and anything can be classed as art (my opinion of course), not in itself a bad thing but perhaps difficult when thinking about preserving or continuing to exhibit that art. To decide what should and shouldn’t be kept in regards to street art would be really difficult policy-wise. So far, from what I can tell it is the "fame" of a street artist which often dictates our actions towards their street art. As you say, Olek's art was originally taken down, and now vandals could be prosecuted for burning her work. Do you think that has to do with a rising profile? Addionally as we see more and more work from a street artist I think we start to understand a little more of what they are about and therefore begin to accept and appreciate what they are doing and the messages they are trying to get out there.

    I'm not very knowledgeable when it comes to street art so it would be great to hear from those who are!


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