For the Arc of History, death may have been a good career move.
Once widely mocked as hideous, too expensive and a symbol of the city of Durango’s largesse and bad taste, the sculpture’s demise has spurred many Durango residents to upwardly revise their opinions of the divisive artwork, which was erected August 2014 at the intersection of U.S. highways 550 and 160.
On Thursday, news of its marring by vandals prompted some Durangoans to grieve.
At Studio &, member artist Maureen May hung a dark flag featuring a dinosaur and the letters, “RIP,” in elegiac tribute to the mutilated Arc of History.
May said the damage done to the Arc of History was “painful” and morally repulsive, saying vandalizing public art is akin to book-burning, and no one should ever attempt to destroy speech simply because they find it disagreeable.
“I think it sucks. It’s a sad, sad comment on how people treat something they don’t like,” she said.
Andrew Bukatko, a bartender at El Rancho, was adamantly opposed to the injury done to the public art.
“It’s not cool,” he said. “Just because something is stupid, you don’t have to go around and break it. It just costs the town more money.”
The sculpture was created by Pennsylvania artist Tom Holmes.
On the Internet – where Durango residents’ constant denigration of the sculpture and frequent expressions of incredulity at its $28,000 price tag achieved the nickname “snark of history” – skeptics grieved the loss of the artwork posthumously.
“This piece of art did exactly what a good piece should do. Cause controversy. To bring a little more culture to this town,” Durango Herald reader Cheryl Pagano commented online after Thursday’s story about the vandalism.
In the face of the crime, others were defiant online. Fort Lewis College student Barbi McCoy urged the city of Durango to put the same sculpture back in the same place, “only BIGGER!!!!!” – a sentiment that few shared just a week ago.
But art historian and Herald art critic Judith Reynolds says people shouldn’t be so quick to write the Arc off.
“I really take exception to the take that this is destroyed, or has to be removed, or it’s ruined forever,” she said. “It’s a remarkable piece of art, and I’d hate to see it removed because someone made a snap decision.”
Reynolds said art has been vandalized for centuries.
“A lot of monuments and public art have been damaged, starting with the Greeks, with statues missing arms or missing heads, and they’re still revered,” she said. “I’m not sure it has to be repaired. I can envision at least two remedies right now, and maybe a third is just leaving it alone. Maybe the community will embrace it like this.”
Durango Arts Center Advisory Board member Christina Erteszek said, “unfortunately, we often have to be hit hard to find out what matters.”
Durango Police Department spokesman Lt. Ray Shupe said police have combed through all the video footage of the intersection, but they haven’t found anything.
City services collected all the broken rock from beneath the vandalized Arc of History to ensure that none of the debris was thrown into the road, he said.
Sherri Dugdale, assistant to the city manager, said the rocks are in storage because they are part of a felony case. At this point, Shupe said, police are relying on tips from the public to solve the crime.
The next step for the Arc of History will be a discussion at the Public Art Commission’s meeting at 8 a.m. Aug. 25 at City Hall, said commission chairwoman Cristie Scott.
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