My wife and I recently visited Orange, CA and I took the opportunity to show her the grounds of my alma mater, Chapman University. A lot had changed in ten years: new dorms, a new student union, even a law school across the street.
Another noticeable change was that a large reflecting pool now lay in front of the student union. Directly in the middle of this pool stood a jagged concrete monolith, dirty gray, with twisted metal rods snaking from its crumbled sides. Now, Chapman has plenty of funky art on its grounds, none of it even vaguely representational. But this, I thought, was a little extreme (read: hideously ugly).
As we got closer I noticed two things: that the whole installation had been dubbed "Freedom Plaza", and that someone had spray painted unintelligible graffiti all over the concrete slab. My mind boggled. My first thought that this was some daring piece of participatory art wherein anyone was free to stroll up and deface the monument in whatever way they chose. But why then put it in the middle of a pool of water that folks would have to wade through first? Maybe, I thought, the university'd had second thoughts about the experiment and decided to remove it from the reach of over-enthusiastic art mavens.
But I couldn't imagine my old college being quite that funky. I decided that what we were seeing was nothing more than vandalism. "Now that's a damn shame," I said to my wife as we walked around the pool. "Someone's sprayed graffiti on that hideously ugly piece of public art!"
My wife said, very kindly, "I think that's a piece of the Berlin Wall, honey." And of course she was right.
I still think my participatory art idea was better.