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The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) recently lost one of its campus’s most subtle and unusual piece of public art. An untitled fountain by the late conceptual artist Michael Asher, created for the university’s Stuart Collection of site-specific art, was reduced to rubble earlier this month when a masked vigilante wielding a sledgehammer rampaged through the campus, San Diego 6 reported.
During his spree, the perpetrator also broke eight surveillance cameras surrounding the campus’ Mandeville Center and left behind a message scrawled in golden spray paint that read: “YOU CAN PAINT OVER ME YOU CAN CATCH ME YOU CAN EXPELL [sic] ME I WILL STILL BE HERE.”
The sculpture, a granite and steel replica of a generic indoor drinking fountain, subverted the conventions of outdoor fountain design while also serving a practical function for thirsty students. “Many people have a drink out of this fountain without realizing it’s art,” Stuart Collection Director Mary Beebe says in a video about the sculpture.
The collection’s founder, James Stuart DeSilva, aimed to fill the UCSD campus with works that integrated themselves into students’ lives. “I wanted art to be accessible for casual visitation, without any … obligation to the passerby to look at or think about it, let alone treat it with reverence,” DeSilva wrote in his founder’s statement in Landmarks, a book about the collection.
The granite water fountain was typical of Asher’s self-effacing style of conceptual art, which often featured elements of institutional critique. The artist, who died in 2012, was a longtime teacher at CalArts. In 2010 he won the Bucksbaum Award for his contribution to the Whitney Biennial, which consisted of a proposal to keep the museum open continuously, 24-hours-a-day, for a full week. Due to the prohibitive costs of paying enough security staff to complete the piece safely, the Whitney stayed open around the clock for three consecutive days.
At USCD, a campus superstition stipulated that Asher’s fountain would grant A grades to students who sipped from it before an exam. Unfortunately for students — and art lovers — the piece was completely destroyed by the vandal, who is still at large.