In September 1966, the first ever "Destruction in Art Symposium"
was held in London, highlighting the work of the self-styled Destructivists. Basically, they destroyed things and called it art.
staff writer Robert Toth delivered the following report from the Symposium (LA Times
- Sep 11, 1966):
The artists say they create by demolishing objects and even killing animals. Destruction seems a negation of art, but they say it's creative destruction — "like when you burn a picture you create ashes," one explained.
But to justify slaughter of a flock of chickens, more pretentious words are demanded. Said one abortive chicken killer, Ralph Ortiz:
"Destructivist art gives our destructive instinct its essential expression while coming to terms with destruction's most primitive maladaptive aspects — aspects that ordinarily would prove to work for the destruction of the species rather than its survival."
After those words, which seem to mean emotional release for him, the American "artist" looked absurd when the law intervened to prevent the massacre (which, incidentally, was to have bloodied 10 elegantly tuxedoed men as an added attraction).
Ortiz came up with a lone canary but no, not that either, said the RSPCA inspector.
Could he let the bird out the window? No again, for it was a cold night.
The frustrated Ortiz settled for showing a film of a chicken-killing, but not before the coup de grace was administered.
Why not stomp a caterpillar, suggested an onlooker. "I'm not a caterpillar-killer," huffed the affronted artist.
His less ambitious colleagues have fared better. One broke a chair to smithereens. Another created a hole with an ordinary shovel, and promptly priced it at $350.
Ortiz did, however, help axe a piano apart.
In 1996, Raphael Ortiz (he was no longer calling himself Ralph) re-enacted his piano-axing performance at New York's Whitney Museum of American Art... but with one small change. According to NY Times
critic Michael Kimmelman, he was now accompanied by "a woman in pigtails and ruffled apron standing on a ladder dropping eggs into a bucket and chanting Humpty Dumpty
Ralph Ortiz destroying a piano — 1966
Incidentally, literary critic Robert Grossmith has noted
that one of the reasons for the obscurity of the Destructivist Art movement is that "not a single Destructivist work of art exists. There are no primary sources. Not a solitary Destructivist novel, poem, play, story, painting, sculpture, film, dance or piece of music was ever produced or, if produced, allowed to survive. In fact if a Destructivist work of art was to turn up today, its very existence would automatically disqualify it from being considered as genuinely Destructivist. There can in short never be a Destructivist work of art, in any accepted sense of the word ‘be’."