A view of Hunt Slonem’s “Thunderbunny” (2021) prior to the vandalism incident on May 21 (photo courtesy Hunt Slonem)

Raise your hand if simply the mere sight of an artwork (say, Sam Durant’s drone sculpture on the Highline, or maybe a Jeff Koons “Balloon Dog“) has ever unleashed so much uncontrollable rage and fury that you just had to run it over with your car. No? Can’t relate.

In a perplexing case of public art vandalism, police in Wilton Manors, Florida, arrested a man earlier this week after surveillance footage showed him deliberately driving his car into a 14-foot blue bunny sculpture in a local park. 

Officers received calls slightly before noon on Sunday, May 21 about a vandalized sculpture in Justin Flippen Park, as per the department’s press release. When officers arrived, witnesses described a driver who had appeared to purposely ram his car into the base of the statue. 

Camera footage from nearby confirmed their statements when the grainy video showed a red vehicle driving off-road to crash into the glittery blue sculpture. Shortly after the collision, the footage shows the driver stepping out of their car to inspect the front bumper, before refastening an object that appears to have fallen off during the impact, and then driving away.

The damaged artwork, titled “Thunderbunny” (2021), features 30,000 glass tiles atop a metal base and is the work of Hunt Slonem, a multidisciplinary artist known for his brightly-colored depictions of rabbits, butterflies, and tropical birds that have taken shape in the form of paintings and large-scale sculptures.

Hunt told Hyperallergic that he was “shocked” when he learned his work had been vandalized.

“My hope was to uplift the world, and then this happened,” the artist said. This isn’t the first time one of his works was damaged due to unforeseen circumstances.

“I had a big mural at the World Trade Center that was destroyed when [the buildings] collapsed, which was devastatingly upsetting,” he told Hyperallergic. “Things happen. We’re not immune to lots of unusual activities in this world.”

As far as the perpetrator goes, police said that it didn’t take long for officers to locate the vehicle responsible for the vandalism and its driver, 49-year-old Derek Alan Modrok. As it turns out, this encounter was not Modrok’s first vandalism offense. After being detained, Modrok admitted to other public damage, including tampering with the Justin Flippen Park sign on May 16 and toppling over a popsicle artwork at Rachel Richardson Park on May 18.

Initially, local residents expressed concerns that the motives behind the vandalistic acts were fueled by an anti-LGBTQ+ bias, as per reported by the New Pelican. But when officers asked Modrok his motivation behind the offenses, he explained that he was driven by his dislike for Wilton Manors’s late mayor, Justin Flippen. Flippen died unexpectedly in 2020 during his term when he suffered a brain aneurysm, according to a tribute page memorializing his legacy.

Modrok told officers that Flippen, who the park is named after, was the reason for “the birds that we hear.”

Police charged Modrok with three counts of criminal mischief. He was later released, according to local reports.

Hunt told Hyperallergic that while this event won’t stop him from continuing his art practice, he does hope more protection for public artworks will be put in place going forward. 

“I know it’s hard. There’s never time or money. But I’d just like to see more protections for public art and more public art. I think it’s a positive, uplifting thing,” he said.

Hunt said the sculpture’s damage is currently being assessed.

Maya Pontone (she/her) is a Staff News Writer at Hyperallergic. Originally from Northern New Jersey, she currently resides in Brooklyn, where she covers daily news, both within and outside New York City....