Arts & Culture » Stage

Art damage


During its three years in Detroit, the Museum of New Art mounted a show titled kaBOOM! in March 2002. It was after 9-11, so the climate was ripe for a show about iconoclasm.

It was assumed that within a controlled situation, actions could be controlled. Included in the show’s 100 works to be destroyed was a reproduction of Man Ray’s “Object to Be Destroyed” and Duchamp’s “Fountain.” The opening began well enough, with Ray’s piece being violently undone per instructions provided by the artist himself, hammer included. By the end of the night, though, someone had not only urinated in Duchamp’s fountain but also into his “Why not Sneeze, Rrose Sélavy?” — a birdcage with sugar cubes — irreparably discoloring the sugar cubes. Then someone else stomped the cage to pieces. Another visitor took both his museum handouts on the history of art vandalism and a reproduction of Duchamp’s “LHOOQ” (Mona Lisa with a moustache), and set fire to it all in the recently drained fountain. The fire in turn was put out using the nearby bottle of fluid excreta from Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (reconstituted).

And what was to have been an orderly performance combining Yoko Ono’s “Cut” with Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even” quickly descended into a chaotic attack on the performance artist in her bridal gown, leaving her in tears and running naked for the safety of a locked room.

A scaled reconstruction of Tyree Guyton’s Heidelberg Project, a polka-dotted house with a wrecking ball, was destroyed as hoped. Fine. But then the wrecking ball was turned on the museum’s own walls, creating huge holes in the drywall before that could be stopped.

By the end of the night, in all the pandemonium of freedom, someone had the nerve to write on a wall with their own feces: “Fuck Art Rules!” Someone actually complained, because the museum staff was actively trying to control the audience from burning the place down. That’s a pile of irony, considering how the show had operated without many rules at all — except, perhaps, don’t burn us down.

The best moment of the night, though, was when a young boy, about 6 or 7, turned to me as he was leaving the museum with his dad and said: “I’ve never had more fun anywhere in my life.” This was shortly after the Metro Times reporter, along with a nearby-museum curator, had run scared for the doors.

Jef Bourgeau is the director of the Museum of New Art. Send comments to

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