Louise Bourgeois’s “Eye Benches IV” (2001) was loaned to the city of New Orleans in 2007 as a gesture of post-Katrina goodwill and the elderly artist, who passed away earlier this year, had covered the $45,000 in shipping and installation costs to get it to the Big Easy.
Sadly, the sculptures were vandalized last month and now, according to the Times-Picayune newspaper, “after three years of turning heads on Lafayette Square, a valuable sculpture is leaving the city as a crime victim.”
The reporter Doug MacCash works through the “logic” of the crime:
The stolen bronze parts, about the size of dinner plates, were described in the police report as “six concentric circles held together with an X bracket.” Like bronze barricades they protected the lighted corneas that shine like beacons toward the federal courthouse across the busy street. No sane art thief would deface a set of modern sculptures for an aesthetically irrelevant pair of metal grids. A vandal bent on defacing the artwork for whatever antisocial reason would have left the heavy, incriminating grids at the scene, right? Deviant logic further dictates that a vandal would have broken the glass corneas beneath the grids.
All things considered, it’s safe to suppose this cultural crime was committed for the same reason that bronze sculpture disappeared from the studio of New Orleans’ late great sculptor John Scott in 2006, and aluminum sculpture disappeared from New Orleans sculptor Lin Emery’s studio in March — the illicit search for scrap metal to sell.
I asked New Orleans-based art historian John D’Addario for his opinion about the incident, and he had this to say:
Well (as Doug McCash also notes in the NOLA.com article) the work was significant in that it was a Louise Bourgeois piece and the artist herself paid for its transport and installation costs as a gift to New Orleans. Its placement was also significant: the eyes were focused on the US District Court building on the other side of Camp Street from Lafayette Square — and we all know that the judicial system here in Louisiana needs as many eyes watching it as it can get.
As far as how the vandalism will effect future public art here in New Orleans, all I can say is that I might think twice if I were an artist considering the gift or loan of a significant (and expensive) work of art to be displayed in public in this city, especially if it had any parts that might tempt thieves dealing in scrap metal. As my mom (and many other moms, I’m sure) might say, this is why we can’t have nice things.