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Vandals destroy 'Best of All Possible Worlds,' prize-winner by Brooklyn artist



By Roger McBain

Evansville Courier & Press

EVANSVILLE, Ind. — A daylight act of vandalism has brought down the "Best of All Possible Worlds" by Brooklyn artist Saul Melman, but organizers of the Sculpt EVV competition vow that their first-prize winner will be back.

Sometime on Tuesday, someone smashed pieces out of Melman's free-standing, vacuum-molded acrylic doorway mounted on a concrete pad in Evansville's Arts District. The art's placement is part of Evansville's bicentennial celebration.

Melman's work, created to invite residents and passers-by to reflect on the past and possible future uses of the former residential site, won a $20,000 award in Sculpt EVV, a national competition that offered more than $36,000 in prizes.

"Best of All Possible Worlds," now part of the city's permanent public sculpture collection, is among a dozen Sculpt EVV works located along in the Haynie's Corner neighborhood. The others will remain up into April 2013, when a second round of Sculpt EVV will bring more work into the community.

Saul Melman's "Best of All Possible Worlds" is seen in Evansville, Ind. in a May 27 photo.A neighbor helped Hilary Braysmith, Sculpt EVV's director, remove the damaged art from its concrete pad and store it, pending repair and replacement. Braysmith already has spoken with Melman. The artist wants to help bring back the art and create something positive from the experience, she said.

On Wednesday, however, the pad lay empty, behind a piece of yellow "caution" tape, a bouquet of flowers and several candles someone had left on the site. A sign behind the empty pad read: "The artist would like to thank the neighborhood for allowing him to put his sculpture up in their community."

While it stood, visitors already had begun leaving offerings and additions to "Best of All Possible Worlds," noted Joe Smith, who with Jenny Smith and Alisa "Al" Holen, created "Becoming Evansville," another Sculpt EVV finalist.

First, it was a rolled, rubber-banded newspaper, left before the door as if it had been delivered to a residence. Later, someone stuck a note on the door that read "Sally, you're never home," with instructions to call the woman named on the note. "And last week," Smith said, "someone found a FedEx notice on the door. It said 'You weren't home when we delivered the packages'."

People posed for pictures in front of it, as well, noted Smith. "Lots of the neighborhood really seemed to embrace it."

This is the second act of vandalism for Sculpt EVV. Someone broke several fired clay globes on "Becoming Evansville" before the neighborhood exhibition's opening, said Holen, but she and the Smiths replaced them and restored their piece that day.

Jodie Horstketter, the neighbor who helped remove broken pieces of "Best of All Possible Worlds," said she enjoyed having all the public art in the neighborhood. She had helped prepare the base for another one of the sculptures on her block and wants to play a more active role in next year's Sculpt EVV project.

The vandalism is "an embarrassment to the community," she said. "I hope they don't give up on us."

Sculpt EVV won't give up because of this, said Braysmith. Vandalism is always a risk with art, whether it's in a neighborhood, a sculpture park, a museum or even St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, where, in 1972, an angry visitor took a hammer to Michelangelo's Pieta, she noted.

Philip Hooper, director for Evansville's Department of Metropolitan Development, agreed, saying that his incident hasn't damaged his enthusiasm for Sculpt EVV now or in the future. "Art is a risk and community development is a risk," he said, "but it's worth it."

"We cannot live in fear," Braysmith said. "We can't be afraid to do something because something might happen."

June 30, 2012 - 12:31am


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