(GIF via jest.com)

(GIF via jest.com)

“Personal vanity” — really? That’s the argument you want to make?

Come on, guys. And by guys, I mean Elmgreen and Dragset, the artistic duo arguing in their statement about the latest round of vandalism against their sculpture “Prada Marfa” (2005) that the act was the result of “some disturbed minds’ personal vanity.”

First of all, throwing around accusations of mental illness is a little too easy. It’s not only unkind, it makes you look bad. I really doubt you need to be lectured on the fact that in America, where the work is located, the mentally ill are hugely stigmatized, largely undercared for, and often left to fend for themselves outside of the support systems that those without mental illness regularly benefit from. Plus the argument is lazy, because what you’re saying, then, is that a sane person would never make a rational choice to deface a work of art — but that has happened, countless times before, to this work of art as well others.

Second, “personal vanity?” Pot. Kettle. Black. Can anyone who calls themselves an artist really claim that personal vanity has never come up in their work? Anyway, we’re all susceptible to our vanity — ALL OF US! The “spiritually enlightened” spend lifetimes trying to rid themselves of vanity, and it still crops up on a regular basis. I am not spiritually enlightened. I can’t comment on the state of your spirituality. But you are both human, so that means there’s, like, a 100% chance that vanity needles its way in a fair amount of the time.

Scenes of the Prada Marfa vandalism (screenshots via YouTube)

Scenes of the Prada Marfa vandalism (screenshots via YouTube)

Third, what did you think was going to happen to that thing out there? After an earlier round of vandalism in 2005, you apparently conceded to letting the thing degrade on its own. Did you have some hyper “green” fantasy about what that would look like — sparrows and tumble weeds and the occasional dust storm gradually altering your $80,000 sculpture, eventually leaving it, years hence, in a gorgeous pile of sunbaked dust and scorpion tracks?

You made a work that’s essentially really expensive and really big street art. Just because it’s out in the middle of a desert instead of wheat-pasted to the walls of a crowded city doesn’t make it any less susceptible and available to anyone else with a paint roller and something to say. Are you next going to argue that all street artists are mentally unstable egomaniacs?

For artists who created a work that includes a sarcastic-cum-ironic joke about luxury goods, produced by and for people who operate within a money-and-goods-saturated echelon, it feels a bit rich to resort to poorly thought-out grandstanding.

A sense of humor might have been a better response. And maybe an acknowledgement that this is what “natural” destruction looks like on streets around the globe, even streets in the middle of the desert in Texas. Context matters, as any installation artist knows too well.

Alexis Clements

Alexis Clements is a writer and filmmaker based in Brooklyn, NY. She recently started a podcast, The Answer is No, focused on artists sharing stories...

4 replies on “Dear Elmgreen and Dragset: How About a Sense of Humor?”

  1. hah! …. makes me think of that tired trope “a work of art is not truly finished until the viewer has a conversation with it….. “

  2. Yeah, that seems pretty par for the course for folks who would think putting a fake Prada store in Marfa is art that is actually worth doing.

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