At 1:15 a.m. on Thursday, September 4, Frank Goss, owner of the Sullivan Goss Gallery at 7 and 11 E. Anapamu St., got a call from the police informing him that the gallery’s alarm was ringing. He hurried down to find that someone had thrown a paving brick through a display window. The brick was thrown hard enough that it created a rectangular dent in the wall behind it.
On Thursday night, the gallery hosted the opening of a show that Goss believes may have inspired the act of vandalism. The centerpiece of the show in the back gallery is a large sculpture called “The Aqueous Inquisitor,” which is an automated water-boarding machine, fully functional, and presented as if it were a trade show display, the accompanying promotional material explaining that it “allows the professional to focus on attaining results rather than dealing with operational and procedural issues.” As gallery director Jeremy Tessmer noted, it “sort of sells you on the possibility that this could be a real thing.”
It’s fair to say that the show registers an objection to use of torture, and in case there is any doubt, viewers who don’t wish to purchase the actual machine can donate $50 to Amnesty International in exchange for a bottle of water carrying the Aqueous Enterprises International label and signed by the artist, Jeff Sanders of Ojai.
Goss said he interpreted the act as a protest of the show. “It upsets me that the only action they could take is anonymous,” he said about the vandalism.
Two previous Sullivan Goss shows with anti-war themes provoked menacing phone calls, Goss said, and about 30 requests by offended patrons to be removed from the gallery’s mailing list. Goss said he also had to call police on four separate occasions to help evict an enraged viewer. First there was the John Nava show, including the tapestry titled “9.29.06,” referring to the date that Congress passed the Military Commissions Act that “licenses the evasion of the Geneva Convention pertaining to torture and revokes habeas corpus,” according to the artist. A year later there was the sculpture created by Steve Cushman (an artist who moonlights as the executive director of the Santa Barbara Regional Chamber of Commerce) who, with several friends in the gallery courtyard on the night that General David Petraeus gave his report to Congress on the war in Iraq’s progress, arranged 3,787 green army men – the exact number of U.S. soldiers who had been killed at that point – in rows and glued their feet down as they are about to borne down upon and crushed by a large rolling cog.
There is no way of knowing for sure whether the brick was thrown through the window as an act of protest against anti-war art. The current show had not yet opened when the brick was thrown, nor had there been any publicity about it, but Tessman noted that the doors were not ajar during the several days that the three new shows were being installed, but they were open and members of the public frequently came in to look around.
Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Sgt. Lorenzo Duarte checked the records to see if any similar acts of vandalism had been reported that night; they hadn’t. The fact that officers responding to the alarm left the offending brick at the gallery, indicating the futility of trying to lift prints from it, probably means they won’t be launching a full-scale investigation. But in case the vandal or vandals were trying to intimidate Goss, they failed. “Who is coming in the dark of night [to commit such acts]?” Goss asked. “My name is on the gallery and they can come by anytime to talk to me.”