An unparalleled amount of vandalism has marred this year’s State of the Art Gallery on State Street. Three separate works in Santa Barbara’s annual outdoor sculpture display have sustained damage, and one piece had to be entirely replaced.
The first report came on August 4, immediately after the artworks were installed along both sides of State Street, when a segment of Bill Malis’s “Enshrined Detritus” was broken off. Four days later, structural damage to Ed Inks’s “The Birth of Bacchus” was discovered, resulting in the piece being removed and repaired. Further damage to the Inks piece subsequently led to the sculpture being replaced by a different, more robust, artifact.
The most recent art attack happened on September 2, when a morning work crew discovered that Rafael Perea de la Cabada and Matthew Woodford’s “Persistence of the Unnecessary” had also received unwanted attention. One of the plexi-glass panels had been smashed and a quantity of the piece’s contents-stuffed animals-had subsequently been removed.
“What’s so shocking to me is that this art out on State Street is such a gift to all of us,” said Rita Ferri, the county’s visual art coordinator. “Hundreds of hours of planning have gone into it by various committees, but most of the blood and sweat and cost is born by the artists. It hurts them most. This is so shocking to my senses. It honestly is physically painful for me to experience such violence.”
While the attack on Malis’s piece-a planar composition of found objects-was a single incident, the two other works have each endured several assaults. When Inks learned of several fractures to his contribution, he removed the piece-a rotund urn-like piece formed of bronze rods-from display and reinforced its structure. Upon discovering further damage on the day of the opening ceremony, Inks and Ferri decided to retire the piece permanently and replace it with a more robust steel offering.
“It hurt,” Inks said. “Early on I took it as criticism and dislike for the work. But I now realize that the individuals responsible just don’t understand it and that’s softened the sadness and hurt. I’m still disappointed that I don’t have the piece down there that I really want to show. The bronze piece was a new work-no one had seen it-and now I have lost that opportunity.”
With Inks receiving several reports of people climbing inside both the original work and its replacement, he feels that it was carelessness rather than a malicious attack that led to the damage. “I guess I created something that was such an inviting space,” he said, “and, as a result, it needs to be much more structurally capable of handling that.”
Cabada and Woodford’s piece-a tall steel, plexiglass, and plywood box full of stuffed animals-is also the victim of repeated attacks, from initial engravings on the plexiglass, to later attempts to crack it, to last week’s successful effort to open it up and steal the colorful plush animals inside. “To be honest with you, I wasn’t surprised,” admitted Woodford. “I half expected it to happen at some point. It’s public art and it’s out there for all sectors of the public. There are going to be some people-for whatever reason-who feel the need to vandalize and abuse it. But I know in my heart that more people are going to enjoy it than want to destroy it. So you just have to take the good with the bad.”
Inks believes the vandalism-which coincides with the throwing of a brick through a window of the Sullivan Goss Gallery last week-result from a lack of understanding. “This is exactly why we should have art on State all the time,” Inks said. “Once it’s there permanently it won’t be this shocking new addition and people will get used to it. We then won’t be seeing as much of this. I’m the glad the city has supported us putting this up, but we have to take them down in November so we can put the Christmas ornaments up. No one will destroy the Christmas ornaments because we’re used to having them there.”