Art vandalized at Agnes Jamieson
|By Matthew Desrosiers - Editor | August 19, 2015|
It’s understood to most art gallery visitors that touching the work is strictly prohibited.
But someone forget to mention that to one – or possibly several – Agnes Jamieson Gallery visitors who decided to vandalize one of the installations there, not just once, but several times.
The installation belongs to Minden artist Michael Bainbridge. He, along with fellow artists Gary Blundell and Christy Haldane, created the First Kingdom: Art of the Canadian Shield exhibition currently on display at the Agnes Jamieson.
Bainbridge’s installation is housed in a private room off of the main gallery. The vandalized portion is part of the Three Kingdoms installation. A silver platter rests upon a pedestal, and on the platter are materials meant to represent antimony black, ceruse white, and vermillion. In reality, the materials are grease black paint, white ground marble, and a solid stick of real vermillion.
“The installation is meant to represent three poisonous pigments that were used commonly in haute couture in the Victorian Era,” said Bainbridge. “This was makeup that both ladies and men would paint themselves with in their finery, resulting in rotting teeth and sloughing of skin. It’s a cautionary tale about being careful when messing with nature. We don’t always know what we’re doing.”
It was only a day after installation the piece that Bainbridge’s work was first vandalized. A carefully placed pile of sale on one of his installations was flattened, and in it, a smiley face was drawn.
“That sort of made me rethink the whole thing,” he said. “Maybe people just think this is supposed to be interactive. I had a moment of maybe that’s ok … and then I thought some more about it, and thought no, I don’t want people in my artistic statement contemplating a smiley face.”
“They’re going to be looking at the smiley face and wondering what I intended by it.”
But that was only the beginning. After repairing his installation several times – someone had poked and prodded at the salt and the paints – he was appalled when his work was truly vandalized.
“I went into the gallery to prepare a couple of prints that had been sold to go out of the gallery to the customer, and discovered that someone had decimated, essentially, a part of the installation I had which consisted of three different types of mineral pigments on a silver platter,” Bainbridge said. “They had taken black paint and smeared it all over the plate. There’s a little pile of white powder, there was black grease in that, and it had been smeared all over the plate. And in particular there is a grinding dish with a vermillion ink stick in it, which had been broker free from the dish and it was covered in black grease.”
“It was completely ruined.”
For Bainbridge, it’s one thing if the vandalism only affected a single installation. However, the entire exhibition, including the work of the other two artists, is impacted by these acts.
“Every piece in there is carefully considered to present an individual statement for the piece, a larger statement for the body of work each of the three of us had put in, and then an overall concept the three of us are working together towards,” he said. “That any one of those pieces, be it mine or anyone else’s, should be inconsistent with any of those messages means that whoever goes into the gallery doesn’t have the opportunity to get fully from it what we intended.”
As a result, Bainbridge said he’s going to have to put up a sign that instructs visitors not to touch the exhibit. He said that impacts his artistic statement, as he purposefully left a sign out of the exhibit so as to keep the installation approachable.
This kind of thing is not unique to the Agnes Jamieson Gallery. In fact, the assistant curator of the Smithsonian Institute’s mineral collection commented on Bainbridge’s Facebook page with stories of what their visitors will do to mess with a display.
“I don’t ascribe any blame to the [Agnes Jamieson] Gallery,” said Bainbridge. “It is an unfortunate trend in society that seems to be growing, and that’s why I got so upset.”
Bainbridge said his anger is aimed at this societal trend.
“I don’t care who it was or what their motivations were, that just isn’t ok and I think there just aren’t enough people in society reinforcing that message,” he said. “I consider it possible there was some mal intent, but I think it’s just as egregious if somebody were to go in there and be so oblivious to not pause for a moment to think of the consequences of such an act. That even if they didn’t mean to do harm, that they should not give enough thought to their actions to consider that it might be harmful, I think is just as bad.”
He said this trend is not just in the art world, but can be seen anywhere across society where people no longer know – or just don’t care – about others and the consequences of their actions.
“It’s not so much I’m angry at someone or about my piece, but rather it’s just disappointing in a much larger sense that this is the state of affairs, and for the love of God we’ve got to do something about it. It starts by talking about it and calling it out for what it is.”
MATTHEW DESROSIERS is the editor of The Highlander.