Robert Smithson's "Chalk-Mirror Displacement" Damaged

The Modern Wing seems to be taking some lumps from the public, last week the Modern Wing was hit with graffiti, this week a visitor stumbled into Robert Smithson’s Chalk-Mirror Displacement breaking a mirror.

Detail, facade, north view vertical.jpg

The Art Institute of Chicago. Detail of Facade, Photo credit: Charles G. Young, Interactive Design Architects.

According to Kristen Mack of the Chicago Tribune, the incident occurred Sunday when “a man backed into a piece titled “Chalk-Mirror Displacement,” which is displayed on the floor of the Modern Wing.”

Unfortunately, Mack decided to also described the piece itself, displaying the usual hostility towards conceptual art.  But at least Mack owns the attitude from the beginning: “Not to sound uncultured. . .” But after the next paragraph it’s too late for that. 


The Art Institute of Chicago. Contemporary Gallery, Darboven, Photo by Dave Jordano.

Mack describes the piece, seen above center on the floor, as “basically a big mound of chalk with six mirrors
stuck in it. No wonder the unidentified man tripped over it and broke
one of the panes of glass — further displacing it.”

Avoiding any attempt to enlighten the public about the artwork, Mack merely rattles off the media that make up the work.  Describing artwork, or anything, only by its parts misses the whole. It’s like describing a painting as “basically a canvas with a lot of oil paint on it,” or describing the Constitution as “basically some paper with a lot of writing on it.” 

Adding insult to injury, Mack uses the work as a punchline.  Mack  seems to view the damage to the piece not as regrettable but inevitable, seeming to imply that the damage was the fault of the piece.  And as the photo may indicate, the piece isn’t small or camouflaged.

When artwork is damaged, especially in a museum, a piece of our shared human heritage is damaged as well, even if you don’t understand or care about that heritage.  It’s important information to share with the public, but not in this glib and careless manner.

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