Vandalism, naturally?

I don't know whether to cal this independent investigative journalism or pure self indulgence, but I have noticed an interesting discrepancy in the reporting of a local story, and as I possess additional relevant evidence (which the local authorities probably wouldn't appreciate), I don't know what to do with it other than to put it here.

Last week, a local Ann Arbor newspaper ran a story headlined "Stolen artwork found in Huron River" which claims that stolen art ended up weighted down in the Huron River in Ann Arbor:

Authorities from multiple police jurisdictions are investigating how art sculptures ended up weighted down in the Huron River in Ann Arbor last week.

Members of the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department Marine Division were asked by officials with both the Ann Arbor Police Department and University of Michigan Department of Public Safety to locate and remove a sculpture from the river near the Nichols Arboretum June 6, according to reports.

Dive team members found the artwork, which is made of roughly 300 pounds of bronze wire molded into the shape of a light bulb, and another sculpture weighted down with numerous concrete blocks.

Another sculpture was found at Gallup Pond June 8, according to reports. The items are valued at about $25,000 together. Further details were not released by police.

No suspect information was available.

My immediate reaction was that this was not theft at all, but vandalism. The art has been controversial. A number of locals are nature lovers, and think the art (wire mesh sculpture in shapes like light bulbs) is tacky, and it would be quite easy for someone to either wade into the river there or hook the piece up to a boat and drag them to deeper water.

By way of background, the installation artist is from Finland, and was brought to Ann Arbor by the University of Michigan, which appointed him a Visiting Artist in Residence at the School of Art & Design. (Those who are really interested in such things can read his "Artist's Statement.")

While it is not the purpose of this post to engage in art criticism, I do think that a good argument can be made that installation art in a popular scenic river site in a town like Ann Arbor might not be a wise move, for a variety of reasons. As things are now, it's probably costing the taxpayers a bundle. (Unless the University is paying for the County Dive Team to perform underwater salvage operations on Sundays. But even then, isn't the University using taxpayers' money.)

What is not at all clear (and hence this post) is what happened. The story seems to have been changed, and unless my suspicions are wrong, there is -- as of right now -- a concerted effort to spin this as an act of God as opposed to an act of vandalism. From an article headlined "Huron River sculptures partial casualties of recent thunderstorms":

Visitors to Gallup Park hoping to see "Valence," the sculpture placed in the Huron River by University of Michigan visiting artist William Dennisuk, will walk away disappointed over the next few days.

"Valence," along with its counterpart "Pulse" in the Nichols Arboretum, were partial casualties of the thunderstorms that hit Ann Arbor on June 6. Neither project was destroyed, but both were dislodged, despite an estimated 800 pounds of concrete mounting on each.

Dennisuk's works are a part of his Vessels Project, a three-part sculpture series designed to highlight the balance between nature, art and the environment. Part I, "Spin," still resides in the Lurie Reflecting Pool on North Campus. Valence was part II. Pulse, or part III, is in the Huron as it winds through the Arb.

Though Dennisuk's works caused some controversy - everybody loves the Huron River - Chrisstina Hamilton, director of the Roman Witt Residency Program that sponsored Dennisuk's fellowship, doesn't believe vandalism is to blame.

The real culprit was the thunderstorms on Sunday, June 6 - thunderstorms that developed into tornadoes not far south of Ann Arbor.

Ann Arbor police were called initially, but routed the call to the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office, the only police agency in the county with a dive team. Divers were dispatched to the Arb and to Gallup Park to recover the works.

Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the sheriff's office, said the call initially came in as a theft, but deputies were soon able to locate both pieces.

The article has this picture of the Valance sculpture, captioned "The Valence sculpture, in better days."

Valence Gallup-thumb-300x470-43804.jpg

Not only have they had to send in a dive team to retrieve it, they're going to have to reinstall it. Pity, because the Resident Artist is already back in Finland!

Pulse is still in the Huron, turned on its side. But Valence has been pulled from the river for the time being. It will be reinstalled shortly, just as the piece in the Arb will be stood upright, Hamilton said. The staffer who will do that job is out of town, but will be back soon.

The displacement of Dennisuk's vessels is ironic, considering the lengthy permitting process the artist waded into to place them in the Huron - a first in Ann Arbor history.

"We were surprised they didn't stay in place," Hamilton said. "When we were trying to obtain the permits to place the sculptures, a lot of the questions were about how we'd keep it weighed down if people were climbing on it."

Dennisuk, who has returned to Finland, said via e-mail that he's been relying on reports from Ann Arbor on the condition of the sculptures.

OK, now it just so happens that I have this picture, which was taken on Sunday, June 6, 2010, at 12:45 p.m.


And here's a closeup of the sign:


The fact is, both the sculpture and the sign were intact at 12:45 p.m. and the above photographs prove it conclusively. (The camera's date and time settings are correct and the original SD memory stick is intact. I would not entrust it to the Ann Arbor police, though.....)

The point is that the storm had long passed when the pictures were taken, so I don't understand the claim that the sculptures were moved underwater by an earlier storm. I was here the whole weekend, and yes, the storm was so severe that I blogged about it at 11:10 a.m. While I expected more rain, it didn't materialize, and in fact, when I went to the Nichols Arboretum later that afternoon, I was told that because they didn't expect more rain, they were planning an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream later Sunday evening. Because I thought it might rain, this struck me as possibly wishful thinking, but the producers turned out to be right. It did not rain that evening.

So, the bottom line is that the "Valence" sculpture in the above photograph was not moved during the previous night's storm.

Unless the river bed had been eroded in the earlier storm and somehow caused the sculpture to move much later, it is safe to say that what happened was not an act of God Gaea.

Something does not make sense.

MORE: To get an idea of how local Ann Arborites feel about placing sculptures in their river, read the comments here.

MORE: A more recent photo of the sculpture is dated June 16 and described here as

Valence River Sculture. Tangled amongst the flotsam, down from its moored site, lies the sculpture in the Huron.


Which is odd, because the dive team was supposed to have saved it.

posted by Eric on 06.18.10 at 11:44 AM


I don't think the bottom picture is of the lightbulb sculpture. The vertical (if the thing were upright) lines aren't curved the same way they are in the other two pics. It's probably the other sculpture.

During my brief imprisonment at the first newspaper you think of when you think "newspaper," which I guess is a model for them all, I learned that captions don't get checked. There's no one around who knows if they're accurate, nobody cares, and if anyone who has a lawyer decides to care, it's the photographer's fault, and he doesn't work here.

guy on internet   ·  June 18, 2010 9:35 PM

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