. . . was an homage to the artistic happenings of the 1960s Fluxus movement, but I never knew it was based on a specific event. Raphael Montanez Ortiz performed several “Piano Destruction Concerts” during the Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS) in early September 1966:
Ortiz reprised the work to open the current Hirshhorn exhibition, Damage Control: Art and Destruction Since 1950:
One of the organizers of DIAS was Gustav Metzger. He did not work in sound, preferring hydrochloric acid, but his manifesto for Auto-Destructive Art influenced many musicians. A young man who heard him lecture in art school, Pete Townshend, went on to explore guitar destruction in his performances with The Who:
A Fender Stratocaster was also destroyed in Guitar Drag. In 2000, Christian Marclay recorded the sights and sounds of a plugged in guitar being dragged over rural Texas roads, just as James Byrd Jr.‘s bleeding body had been dragged in that region two years earlier.
Marclay’s early works sound like broken records. Literally. For Recycled Records, he glued together slices of different LPs and played the reassembled recordings. Other works of his involved LPs scuffed by being walked on and manipulated turntables.
The Hirshhorn exhibition contains a lot of art about destruction. A number of pieces promote destruction as art, literally deconstructing art. However, very few works even hint at the destruction of art. Not even as a concept. Everything here is Art, with a capital A, safe and obscure inside museum walls. DIAS tried to engage the public by staging their events around London, but the audience for all of the events combined probably did not equal that of a single concert by The Who. While the originators should certainly get their due, wouldn’t it also be nice to acknowledge the popular artists like the Art of Noise and The Who who took these esoteric concepts out of the museums and integrated them into public consciousness?