Written by Jonathan Jones
Posted on The Guardian, Monday 31 March 2003
Weaned on a diet of pickled animals and unmade beds, the British public has become remarkably difficult to shock. Could that be why Jake and Dinos Chapman, the enfants terribles of Britart, bought a mint collection of Goya’s most celebrated prints – and set about systematically defacing them? Jonathan Jones on the breaking of art’s ultimate taboo
Defaced?: one of the Chapmans’ ‘rectified’ Goyas.
Poor Goya. In his lifetime he had to put up with deafness, the Spanish Inquisition and the Duke of Wellington. Now he has Jake and Dinos Chapman to contend with. The brothers called one of their earliest tributes to the great Spanish painter, printmaker and visionary Great Deeds Against the Dead – quoting Goya – in which they reproduced one of his horrific images of cruelty as a lifesize tableau featuring a dismembered mannequin impaled on a tree. Their latest work is another great deed against the dead – a desecration of the memory of Goya.
Two years ago, the Chapmans bought a complete set of what has become the most revered series of prints in existence, Goya’s Disasters of War. It is a first-rate, mint condition set of 80 etchings printed from the artist’s plates. In terms of print connoisseurship, in terms of art history, in any terms, this is a treasure – and they have vandalised it.
“We had it sitting around for a couple of years, every so often taking it out and having a look at it,” says Dinos, until they were quite sure what they wanted to do. “We always had the intention of rectifying it, to take that nice word from The Shining, when the butler’s trying to encourage Jack Nicholson to kill his family – to rectify the situation,” interrupts Jake.
“So we’ve gone very systematically through the entire 80 etchings,” continues Dinos, “and changed all the visible victims’ heads to clowns’ heads and puppies’ heads.”
The “new” work is called Insult to Injury. The exhibition in which it will be shown for the first time, at Modern Art Oxford, is called The Rape of Creativity.
Goya’s Disasters of War is a precocious modern masterpiece, a work left by its creator as his final savage bequest to the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries – it was far too anti-clerical and unpatriotic to be published in his lifetime, and the first ever edition came out in 1863, three and a half decades after his death in 1828. From the very start of its public existence, it has been experienced not as a historic but as a contemporary work, its images so urgent and truthful that they function as living, new art.
And it is this colossus whose masterpiece the Chapman brothers have chosen to defile.
“He’s the artist who represents that kind of expressionistic struggle of the Enlightenment with the ancién regime,” says Jake, “so it’s kind of nice to kick its underbelly. Because he has a predilection for violence under the aegis of a moral framework. There’s so much pleasure in his work. To produce the law, one has to transgress it. Not to be too glib in the current conditions, but there’s something quite interesting in the fact that the war of the Peninsula saw Napoleonic forces bringing rationality and enlightenment to a region that was presumed Catholic and marked by superstition and irrationality. And here’s Goya, who’s very cut free from the Church, who embodies this autonomous enlightened being, embodied as a gelatinous dead mass without redemption – then you hear George Bush and Tony Blair talking about democracy as though it has some kind of natural harmony with nature, as though it’s not an ideology.”
Whoah, step back a minute. Defacing a work of art is, perhaps, the last taboo of the liberal, Britart-loving, Tate Modern-going public. The crime novelist Patricia Cornwell’s purchase and destruction of works by the British artist Walter Sickert in pursuit of her theory that the disturbing early-20th century painter of music hall audiences and seedy interiors was Jack the Ripper nauseated many, me included. To destroy a work of art is a genuinely nasty, insane, deviant thing to do.
continue reading here
By STEVEN A. HOLMES
Published: December 6, 1989 on The New york Times
An angry debate has erupted at the New School for Social Research after a caricature of a black man the school was displaying in an art show was defaced by an instructor who branded the work racist.
While some faculty members and students consider the instructor’s act a legitimate protest against a racist art work, others view its destruction as understandable but unjustified censorship.
At the center of the debate is a question that has been argued in Washington, New York and elsewhere in recent months: Is freedom of expression an inviolable right, or should limits be placed on it when art or speech is offensive. ‘Who Decides What Is Appropriate’
The New School administration used the standard of artistic freedom in allowing the disputed drawing to continue to be displayed, and its actions were supported by many students and faculty.
”I understand the sensitivity of the issue, but by censoring a piece of art, you are setting a precedent for censoring all art,” said Faith Dunn, a white communications design student who is editor of the Parsons Paper, a student newspaper at the Parsons School of Design, one of the New School’s seven colleges in Manhattan and where the exhibition was held.
”If you are going to start defacing art you don’t think is appropriate, where do you stop? And who decides what is appropriate?” Ms. Dunn asked. ‘Strong Passions on All Sides’
Critics say the administration is elevating freedom of expression to too exhalted a position, and that other freedoms, like the right to be free from intolerance and racial bias, should be given equal weight.
”Freedom of expression is no more sacred than freedom from intolerance or bigotry,” said John Jeffries, a black who is the associate dean of the New School’s Graduate School of Management and Urban Professions.
The incident has also forced the New School, a Greenwich Village institution with a reputation for social liberalism, to face accusations that its decision to allow the picture to be displayed has, in effect, institutionalized racism. ”There are strong passions on all sides,” said Jonathan F. Fanton, a white and the New School’s President. ”I’ve heard a lot of things in the last couple of weeks that I don’t like; all the way from very harsh judgments of the person who defaced the work to very harsh judgments of the unversity and me for not having taken it down.”
The incident occurred last month at the Exhibition Center at the Parsons School of Design. On display was a tiny, black and white copy of a drawing of a black man whose face is dominated by the whites of his eyes and white lips. It is a caricature similar to those popular in old minstral shows. The drawing was part of a 1983 advertising campaign for a Japanese soft drink and was created by the Japanese artist Shin Matsunaga. It was one of 350 works by Mr. Matsunaga that were exhibited by the Parson’s gallery from Oct. 18 through Nov. 17.
Three days before the show’s closing, Sekou Sundiata, a musician and poet who teaches at the New School, drew a large blue X across the figure in the print. On the mounting above the picture, he wrote that the poster was racist and signed his name.
”The New School doesn’t have the right to invite someone into my community to insult me,” said Mr. Sundiata, who is black. ”Matsunaga can say or draw whatever he wants, but you don’t have to invite him in.” ‘Deeply Offensive and Racist’
Later, about 40 students showed their approval of Mr. Sundiata’s action by writing their names on the mounting and across the print itself. Students and faculty members also demonstrated outside the gallery and met Mr. Fanton to express their anger over the school’s decision to hang the poster.
Mr. Fanton responded to the defacing of the print by mailing a six-page letter to all students and faculty. In his letter, Mr. Fanton said he felt the print was ”deeply offensive and racist.” But, citing resolutions adopted by the school’s board of directors concerning the free exchange of ideas and artistic freedom, Mr. Fanton stood by the ”decision to leave the offensive piece in the exhibition.”
continue article here
Download the Press Release here in PDF (1.18 Mb)
Posted at Stedelijk Museum
Gert Jan Kocken
16.09 – 11.11.2007
Opening 15.09.2007, 5-7 p.m.
The hundredth exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (since 1993) is devoted to the work of Amsterdam photographer Gert Jan Kocken. He is showing a series concerned with iconoclasm: photographs that focus attention on the fury that images have provoked in the past. In doing so, he poses questions about the way the image exercises its power today.
In his work Gert Jan Kocken (1971, Ravenstein) places history and memory in relation to the image. He began his Disaster Sites series in 1999: using a view camera, he photographed various locations where a great disaster had once occurred, printing the photographs in large format to produce a monumental, detailed image. Because the photographs were made long after the disaster involved, there is nothing more to be seen than a landscape, and there is only the memory of what took place at this specific location. For instance, the majestic views of the slope of Mont Blanc, with the entrance to the tunnel of the same name, or the sea at Zeebrugge, or the park-like space in the midst of the Bijlmer receive a certain charge – a tension between the aesthetic image and what collective memory knows about the place. A similar series was to be seen in the group show ‘Something Happened’, which Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (SMBA) assembled with work by Kocken for the Amsterdam Art Fair in 2004, this time with life-sized photographs of places in Amsterdam where a murder, suicide or a shocking disclosure had taken place. At first glance all are ordinary locations – with, however, a charged history.
Charged history is also the subject of a new series of photographs by Kocken, on the theme of Turning Points. Most of these works do not address recent collective memory directly, since they deal with a period which lies over four centuries behind us. Specifically, this is the case for the series of photographs of religious objects that were destroyed during the Reformation in northwestern Europe in the 16th century. The primary motive for the destruction was the Second Commandment, ‘Thou shalt not make for yourself any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; thou shalt not bow thyself down to them, nor serve them.’ The Beeldenstorm (Image War) which raged across Europe in several waves, was not only a pedagogic demonstration of the material aspect of the images of saints (in contrast to their presumed sacrality), but also an expression of fury against the fraudulent Roman authorities, which was first inspired by Erasmus and Luther, and later intensified and radicalised by Zwingli, Calvin and others. It is striking that, while to be sure much has been written about the history of the Reformation, and thus about the Beeldenstorm, the damaged artifacts which have survived on the spot (reliefs and paintings) and, for instance, scratched out missal texts, have seldom if ever systematically been illustrated – and certainly not in the painstaking manner in which Kocken has done that.
For his work Kocken first performed extensive research into the various locations ravaged by the Beeldenstorm. Next he made his photographs – including shots in churches in Utrecht, Zwolle and Breda in The Netherlands, Münster in Germany, Geneva and Glarus in Switzerland, and Norfolk and Suffolk in England. He then printed the photographs of the objects involved at almost actual size. The sharpness of the prints and their format give them a material quality that closely approaches that of the original sculptures and paintings, and makes them even better and more easily visible than in their location in churches, or in museum depots. With the artifacts removed from their ecclesiastical or museal context, in the exhibition the emphasis comes to lie on the faces of the saints, chiselled away or scratched out in a way that is as malicious as it is meticulous, while the rest of the image remains almost entirely intact.
The precision with which this has been done to the works photographed by Kocken makes it clear that iconoclasm is not by definition a matter of wanton destruction. The history of iconoclasm is very closely interwoven with theological and philosophical ideas that may differ by time and place, but which are often quite profoundly rational. It began with the iconoclastic controversy in the Byzantine Empire, which ran on nearly a century after 726, the year that the Emperor Leo III had a mosaic of Christ that was above the entrance to his palace removed in favour of a simple cross. This interweaving of iconoclasm and religion continued through modern, abstract art by Kandinsky, Malevich, Mondrian and others.  Iconoclasm took on a symbolic, aesthetic form in the work of these artists. Over the centuries most forms of iconoclasm have however gone down in history as instances and examples of the act of destruction, and not so mush the specific remains of the deed. In other words, iconoclasm is mostly understood to be just blind vandalism, and has therefore become a taboo in the modern context of far-reaching musealisation and conservation of art and a constantly expanding system of historical preservation. 
A textbook example of the sort of precision destruction that Kocken records is the St. Anna retable found in the Domkerk in Utrecht. It is a large relief from around 1500 which is high on one of the pillars of the former cathedral. It depicts Anna, the mother of Mary, seated on a throne and surrounded by her relatives. Mary is seated directly below her. Astonishingly, the eyes of God the Father, who towers above this whole scene, have been spared, but the faces of the other figures have been completely obliterated. The infant Jesus has entirely disappeared from the arms of Mary. All the other details of the relief from which it derives its exquisite immaterial quality, including the polychromy in gold and blue, are still visible in their full glory, and give an impression of the importance that devotion to Mary had attained in the late Gothic era (and which, on the other side, was so fiercely criticised by the Reformers). A wood panel of Mary in Geneva received similar precise treatment: the faces of both the Virgin and the Child have been carefully chiselled away exactly within their contours, so Mary’s luxuriantly curling hair has been beautifully spared. On a stone relief of Mary and the Christ Child floating on a cloud, with saints and the donor below (in the St. Michael in Zwolle), only the architectural background and the cloud have been spared, giving the image a marvellous, abstract quality.
That it was not only Mary, but also the Pope, who was in the line of fire becomes clear from the treatment of a painted panel from the late 15th century in the collection of the Stadtmuseum in Münster. It depicts a vision of the suffering of Christ that Pope Gregory the Great (6th century) received during a Mass. The eyes of the Pope and all the saints and Church Fathers surrounding him have been gouged out – except those of the suffering Christ himself, and two anonymous figures in the background. The photographs of pages from missals in the Royal Library in Louvain are of an entirely different nature. Florid lines have been scratched, or whole columns have been partly obliterated with red chalk on the pages dealing with the Pope and Luther. Given the nature of these interventions, it was not the case that the perpetrator felt that the text must no longer be read at all. The scratches were apparently intended as an unmistakable critique of the commentator involved.
Just as in modern art, but with the methodology of a documentary photographer added, Kocken aestheticises the iconoclasm and still poses questions about the motives for it. As it were, he brings the visual facts of an important period in the history of religious wars – a period which marked the creation of an independent Netherlands – into our own day. He does that precisely in a time of when iconoclasm once again is playing an important role. Perhaps the most significant example is the demolition of the statues of Buddha at Bamiyan by the Taliban, and especially the images of this which went out all over the world on the news. In the SMBA exhibition that relation is made drawn by an entirely anomalous photograph by Kocken of the front page of the New York Times on the day that the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York took place: nothing yet about the attack itself, but several small stories about the perils posed by the Middle East and Afghanistan. In retrospect, there were enough signs to indicate that possibly ‘something’ was in the offing.
Kocken’s work is reason for the SMBA to pose questions about the meaning of iconoclasm in our society today. These questions are closely associated with the debate about cultural diversity in The Netherlands, and attempts to enlarge this – until now rather limited – debate by making connections with visual culture. The Bamiyan question, but also the riots over the Danish Muhammad cartoons, the controversy about a bikini advertisement in Utrecht, recent complaints about the use of female nudes in advertising and video clips in general, and even (although it was motivated by promise of quick money) the vandalism of Rodin’s bronze The Thinker in Laren, photographed by Kocken in its damaged state: these can all be omens of a new iconoclastic controversy which, just as in Byzantine times, is much more deeply rooted than we are at first inclined to think. By way of a kick-off, in his essay for SMBA Newsletter art historian Sven Lütticken traces various theoretical perspectives on iconoclasm. In the debate that the SMBA is organising for Museum Night on November 3, there will be a discussion of the relation between the iconoclasm controversy and various political, religions and social currents. And also in the near future the SMBA will be returning again to the ‘image debate’.
Jelle Bouwhuis is curator of Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam
‘Defacing’ by Gert Jan Kocken is to be seen in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam through November 11, 2007. SMBA Newsletter nr. 100 will appear to accompany the exhibition, and contain this introduction and an essay by art historian Sven Lütticken. As part of Museum Night, on November 3 the SMBA will host a discussion of modern iconoclasm. For more information: www.smba.nl
1. Alain Besançon, The Fobidden Image. An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm, University of Chicago Press, 2000. French publication in 1994.
2. See for a concise explanation about the difference between iconoclasm and vandalism: Dario Gamboni, The Destruction of Art. Iconoclasm and Vandalism since the French Revolution, Reaktion Books London, 1997, p. 17-20. In this publication Gamboni offers a summary of vandalism and destruction of art since the French Revolution with the underlying motivations.
L’iconoclasme (du gr. εικών eikon « icône » et klaô « casser ») est, au sens strict, la destruction de représentations, qu’elle soit due à des considérations religieuses ou profanes. L’iconoclasme est opposé à l’iconodulie. Ce courant de pensée rejette l’adoration vouée aux représentations du divin, dans les icônes en particulier. L’iconoclaste chrétien s’appuie sur le troisième des Dix Commandements : « Tu ne feras pas d’image taillée ». (Exode 20: 4). Dans un second sens, le terme iconoclaste (adjectif ou nom) désigne une attitude ou un comportement d’hostilité manifeste aux traditions.
Iconoclasm, Greek for “image-breaking”, is the deliberate destruction (or defamation) of important symbolic images (or icons) recognized within a culture, religion, or society. An act of iconoclasm usually implies that the activity was public, rebellious, and originating from within the respective group.
People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any person who breaks or disdains established dogmata or conventions. Conversely, people who revere or venerate religious images are called ‘iconolaters‘. In a Byzantine context they are known as ‘iconodules‘, or ‘iconophiles’.
Iconoclasm may be carried out by people of a different religion, but is often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. The two Byzantine outbreaks during the 8th and 9th centuries were unusual in that the use of images was the main issue in the dispute, rather than a by-product of wider concerns. In Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by a literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of “graven images”.
The Defacing project by Pablo Gonzalez-Trejo to open at the Freedom Tower in Miami on May 14, 2009. Here is some of the history on this building… by way of wiki
The Freedom Tower is a 1925 building in Miami, Florida, that serves as a memorial to Cuban immigration to the United States. It is located at 600 Biscayne Boulevard. On September 10, 1979, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. It was designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark on October 6, 2008
Originally completed in 1925 as the headquarters and printing facility of the Miami News & Metropolis newspaper, it is an example of Mediterranean Revival style with design elements borrowed from the Giralda Tower in Seville, Spain. Its cupola on a 255 foot (78 m) tower contained a decorative beacon.
In the 1950s The Miami News vacated the building to move to a new state-of-the-art facility on the Miami River. In 1973, The Miami News moved to share facilities with the rival Miami Herald at their plant on Biscayne Bay until going out of business in 1988. As refugees from the Castro regime arrived in Miami, the federal government used the facility to process, document and provide medical and dental services for the newcomers. After the first major wave of refugees ended in 1972, the government sold the building. Passing through several owners with various development ideas, the building was eventually sold in 1997 when a prominent and controversial member of the Cuban-American community, Jorge Mas Canosa, purchased the building for US$4.1 million.
The building was restored and converted into a monument for the refugees who fled to the United States from communist Cuba. It houses a museum, library, meeting hall, and the offices of the Cuban American National Foundation.
Recently the Freedom Tower was purchased by developer Terra who wished to demolish 75 feet (23 m) of the original tower and develop 683 condominium units. A group of preservationist organized and successfully stopped the demolition, Miami Dade County Preservationists included Armando Gutierrez, Rafael Penalver, Richard Heisenbottle and Dade Heritage Trust. The developers were unable to gain approval. The developers then donated the Freedom tower to Miami-Dade College, which plans to use it as a monument to the Cuban community. The city later granted approval to the developers to build on the back of the property without demolishing the original tower.
Currently, the Freedom Tower is used as an Art gallery, having housed the New World School of the Arts BFA show, and exhibitions through the Miami Art Museum displaying work from famous artist Francisco Goya as well as Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller “The Killing Machine & Other Stories”
de- + face
Infinitive to deface
Third person singular
to deface (third-person singular simple present defaces, present participle defacing, simple past and past participle defaced)
1. To damage something in a visible or conspicuous manner.
* 1869: George Eliot, The Legend of Jubal
That wondrous frame where melody began / Lay as a tomb defaced that no eye cared to scan.
2. To void or devalue; to nullify or degrade the face value.
He defaced the I.O.U. notes by scrawling “void” over them.
* 1776: Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations
One-and-twenty worn and defaced shillings, however, were considered as equivalent to a guinea, which perhaps, indeed, was worn and defaced too, but seldom so much so.
* Finnish: turmella, vahingoittaa
* (damage in a conspicuous way): disfigure, mar, obliterate, scar, vandalize
* (degrade the face value): cancel, devalue, nullify, void
THEY say that Hope is happiness
But genuine Love must prize the past;
And Memory wakes the thoughts that blest
They rose the first they Set the last
And all that Memory loves the most
Was once our only hope to be;
And all that hope adored and lost
Hath melted into memory
Alas it is delusion all,
The future cheats us from afar,
Nor can we be what we recall,
Nor dare we think on what we are.
The Works of Lord Byron Including the Suppressed Poems. Also a Sketch of His Life By George Gordon Byron Byron