Altered Art

I have reason to believe that a sculpture on city-owned land near my home had a bunch of stuff added to it without the artist’s knowledge. The sculpture was originally a fountain with some whimsical animal and plant sculptures and a plaque with the artist’s name. About a year after it was installed, several things were added to the fountain along with a new plaque describing the additions (which are of a “cultural” nature) in a much more prominent location.

I don’t know anything about art or artists, so I’m interested in whether the artist would be as upset as I imagine he would be were he to learn about these alterations. Also, has the owner of the art violated any points of law or ethics by altering the sculpture? Apparently the sculptor is fairly well-known. Should I try to call the guy or send him a picture of what they did to his piece?

Some artists would love it, others would be horrified. Legally, it quite probably would count as criminal damage, should anybody bother to prosecute.

I’d certainly try to get in touch with the guy, and ask if he knows about the alterations - although if they’ve been ‘acknowledged’ as you describe, I’d be surprised if the artist didn’t know about it.

In my neck of the woods, a piece of public art is a result of a process conducted between an artist and a city/county/state agency. Said process concludes with a legal contract, in which the artist is paid, and which typically includes the provision that said agency will pay to maintain the artwork as is.

In the case of a piece with a fountain element, for example, there would be a pool guy who comes around rather frequently to make sure the water is clean and the pumps are working. A statue or sculpture that gets some graffiti or attacked in some way will be cleaned or repaired as needed. Etc.

The purpose of that is obviously to maintain the piece up to an aesthetic standard where it can be best enjoyed by the public. Also, it honors the original vision and intent of the artist.

Yes there certainly are ethics which pertain to this sort of thing, some states do even have a law or two related to this issue (though I wouldn’t describe those laws as being exactly full of the teeth of enforcement). I would say contact the overseeing agency of that piece, whether it be the local parks & recreation department or whoever. Find out if there are other people in the neighborhood who are concerned about this. The press may also be interested, as this sort of thing makes a classic slow-news-day type of story.

Artists are approachable people and if you sent him or her a letter about what’s going on with the piece, certainly that letter will be read. (Assuming he is alive.) But if he lives far away you might be able to do much more about the situation yourself.

Why are you so sure the artist, himself, didn’t make the additions? Isn’t it possible that there were complaints about the sculpture, and the artist was asked to alter it?

I’m not sure whether the artist knew about it or not. I am sure the additions were not the result of complaints by anyone.

All I know is that the fountain was built, then about a year later a bunch of extra stuff appeared in the fountain with a new plaque talking about the cultural significance of what was added. The new plaque doesn’t say “the new items were designed by <artist>,” or “fountain redesigned by the original artist” or anything like that. The new stuff is completely unattributed. Whether this sort of thing is common or accepted was partly my original question.