Art museum suffers graffiti attack; clean-up difficult and expensive on surface made of Tennessee marble

Graffiti at garden wall of art museum

Graffiti at garden wall of art museum

Officials at the Knoxville Museum of Art are both angry and saddened by a graffiti attack that has disfigured the wall surrounding the museum’s sculpture garden.

“It’s horrible,” said David Butler, the museum’s executive director. He said the same kind of markings have defaced several other buildings in the nearby Fort Sanders neighborhood. “It happens in waves,” he said.

Greg Hall, chairman of the museum’s board of directors, said a similar attack occurred about 10 years ago and was very costly to repair. “It’s a shame that when we are trying to support our cultural institutions in these difficult economic times, that we have a few people causing us this unnecessary expense. Now we’ll have to use money to clean this up that we could have used on programs.”

Fortunately, another museum board member, Mark Heinz, is an architect with Dewhirst Properties. He is working to get the repairs done as economically as possible. “It’s terrible. It’s not art. It’s just kids,” Heinz said.

Butler said the damage is particularly difficult to repair because the wall is made of Tennessee marble, which is a very porous material. It has soaked up the paint or ink that was used. Heinz has applied a kind of putty to the surface in an attempt to draw the color out of the stone. But that hasn’t worked very well and he said today he is consulting with experts to see if there is a better product that can be used.

There has long been a debate over whether graffiti is a form of vandalism or a form of art. When asked if it was ironic that the museum, a defender of all kind of creative arts, now finds itself the victim of a graffiti attack, Butler paused. “I guess it’s a form of artistic expression,” he said. “But it’s also vandalism.”

Hall agreed. “As an art institution, the KMA admires visual expressions of creativity,” he said. “However, vandalism costs money and impedes the museum’s ability to provide programming for our community.”

Wall surrounding KMA sculpture garden

Wall surrounding KMA sculpture garden

More graffiti at KMA

More graffiti at KMA

Hmmm. If this is art, I don't get it

Hmmm. If this is art, I don't get it

7 Responses to “Art museum suffers graffiti attack; clean-up difficult and expensive on surface made of Tennessee marble”

  1. My first reaction was, vandalism, pure and simple. Then I began to appreciate the dichotomy: art OR vandalism. Personally, these marks are not artistic to me. But. Maybe to some they are. If the markings can be removed, is it possible to coat the walls with a finish that would resist future vandalism and perhaps seal the surface so it’s more easily cleaned? Also, what is the feasibility of providing a “public wall” within the garden where “vandals” can apply their creativity? UT has the Rock and it’s become a tradition. Just a few thoughts.

  2. As a long-time KMA Trustee, I find this heartbreaking. We — the board and staff — have worked extremely hard in this economy to manage our financial resources. The money it will take to repair this damage could have been paid to our marvelous staff who have all voluntarily taken paycuts this year. Who would do this to a museum that does such a brilliant job of serving its community? The KMA offers free admission to one and all every day. I doubt if whoever did this has ever come to the museum to see first hand the beauty it contains. They should. Maybe then they might begin to understand what they’ve defaced and tried to ruin for the rest of us.

  3. Not that I condone what was done but some food for thought:
    “The words of the prophets were written on the subway walls and the tenement halls…” Art and Paul

  4. Graffiti can rise to the level of art but, saddly, this did not.

  5. This is “marking one’s territory” and doesn’t qualify for expression or any kind of statement other than “I can do this and you can’t stop me.” Causes us to build non-porous walls and to plan for assault. Not exactly a good position to promote good works, ideas and viewpoints. The wall markings that one can call art express something and show talent. Doesn’t mean it is right, but hardly is one person’s markings equivalent to another’s talent. Just call this all “droppings” and the idea is firmly understood.

  6. When an individual defaces another’s property, it’s vandalism and it is a crime. If “taggers” have taken on the notion that it’s “art” and therefore somehow falls outside the bounds of unacceptable human behavior, pitty them. When possible, they should be arrested and prosecuted.

    Their behavior is as unacceptable and illegal as it would be if they were going through neighborhoods and smashing the windows out of cars.

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