Demolition of groundbreaking Iowa art installation set to begin soon

Crews could next week begin ripping out a groundbreaking art installation bordering a Des Moines pond, which a local art museum says is hazardous and too expensive to repair

DES MOINES, Iowa — Crews could begin ripping out a groundbreaking art installation bordering a Des Moines pond as early as next week under plans announced by a local art museum Wednesday, saying the artwork is hazardous and would be too expensive to repair.

City officials gave the Des Moines Art Center permission to begin demolishing the artwork, called Greenwood Pond: Double Site, as soon as Monday. Removal of the pond-side installation in the heart of a beloved city park is expected to take months.

The artwork, completed in 1996, was considered a highpoint of New York artist Mary Miss’ career, and news of its likely removal has sparked outrage from Miss, other artists and arts organizations.

Miss has expressed shock at the art center’s plan to remove her artwork and said doing so would violate her 1994 contract that she said requires the museum to maintain the piece. She reiterated her contention in a letter to the art center board dated March 29 and released publicly.

“I would be shocked if it was just torn out,” Miss said in an interview in late February. “It doesn’t deserve it. People don’t deserve to have that happen.”

The artwork offers different perspectives of a small wetlands, including from wooden decks over Greenwood Pond, along gravel paths and metal walkways over vegetation as well as from structures that let people see the water at eye-level and from above.

The work has been celebrated as an innovative example of land art, in which artists create works using land formations and natural features, such as rocks, plants and water.

The art center, which sits atop a hill near the pond, said it had no choice but to remove the artwork, saying its design and materials left it vulnerable to Iowa’s extreme weather with frigid winters and warm, humid summers. Officials said much of the artwork would need to be replaced at a cost of $2.6 million and that future maintenance would cost millions more.

Fencing blocks access to part of the artwork that officials said is hazardous.

The Cultural Landscape Foundation, a Washington-based education and advocacy organization, has been organizing efforts to oppose the removal of the artwork, calling it a milestone in the land art movement. The organization noted that Greenwood Pond: Double Site was among a relatively few prominent land artworks created by a woman in a field where male artists have received far more attention.

Removing the artwork will require bringing heavy equipment to the site, draining the pond to allow access to the infrastructure, and building new paths over three months or more. The art center will pay for the work from its budget and city funds won’t be used.

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