The Temporary Artwork That Was More Temporary Than Expected

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The artwork, called To Whom It May Concern, was never meant to be permanent. After all, the text piece was made of mulch and left out in the elements in the vacant lot next door to Lawndale Art Center. Artist Emily Sloan says that part of the piece was that "naturally or unnaturally, it would go away." But she didn't think Lawndale would be the one to dismantle it.

Two weekends ago, Sloan got home from a trip and headed to Lawndale to take photos of the work, which had been up since November. To her surprise, it was gone. Inside, she asked what had happened to it and was told that it had been used to mulch Lawndale's trees. "I just found it interesting," she says. "When something's in the world, anything could happen to it, but that of all people an art organization decided to mulch over this...They told me they weren't gonna mess with it."

Sloan had been doing a residency at Lawndale in collaboration with the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center, with her studio overlooking the vacant lot. She called up another artist in the building, who told her that "one day it was there and...hadn't dispersed much, and the next day it was gone."

Sloan describes To Whom It May Concern as a "guerilla piece," but Dennis Nance, Lawndale's director of exhibitions and programming, says he considered it part of the last group show at the space. Another text work by Sloan, Thank You, was actually installed on Lawndale property. (That one pretty much succumbed to the environment on its own.)

"We had a big miscommunication is basically what it breaks down to," says Nance. "When we were de-installing and changing out shows, we cleaned it up. I was thinking, 'Okay, this show is over.' She was thinking, 'Okay, I'll just leave it.'"

Nance says Lawndale doesn't own the lot next door but does maintain it, sending over their lawn service and cleaning up trash before openings. He says he thought he was doing a favor for a friend who was out of town when he moved the mulch over to some nearby trees. And when he found out Sloan was upset, "I felt really bad," he says. "It was by no means commentary on the piece because it was a great piece."

Funnily enough, moving the mulch didn't get rid of the artwork entirely. And in the end, Sloan is pretty philosophical about what happened. "I guess it's just the way the piece ended," she says. "It's kind of like part of the piece."

- Cathy Matusow

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