PICA curator vows vacant downtown lot will continue to be site of art exhibits

Daniel Duford's public artwork, 'Golems Waiting,' was made for a scruffy vacant lot at Southwest Third Avenue and Taylor Street.

Duford's work, kiln-fired on site, depicted three large nude figures crouched on the lot's gravel and mud. A fourth figure knelt a short distance away from the rest. Depending on one's interpretation, the figures could be seen as restrained in a position of subjugation, or in a position of prayer.

The poses of the oversized sculptures were inspired by images of prisoners captured during the war on terrorism, as well as the golems of Jewish folklore. Golems are magically animated clumps of material that come to life either to wreak havoc upon or to protect their maker. Duford, 33, also drew upon comic book images of the Incredible Hulk and the Thing. Questions about the nature of strength and vulnerability were raised.

But in a violent turn of events that seems to fit the project's powerful storyline, the sculptures were smashed to the ground by vandals in a series of art-bashings.

During the first attack lastweekend, the kneeling figure in the back corner had its penis lopped off, and the hands and head of another one of the kneeling figures were cut off. The following night, one of the kneeling figures was broken apart completely and its head removed.

Further damage was evident Thursday morning. One of the two remaining figures kneeling and facing eastward had been disassembled and moved elsewhere in the lot.

Passers-by such as Anona Selby, whose daughter said she should stop by and see the work while she still could, looked at the piles of broken clay on the ground and shook her head.

'It really angered someone,' she said on Wednesday. 'It makes you wonder, if someone could do this, what would they do to another person?'

Duford responded to the destruction of his work Wednesday afternoon by painting images of the figures rising on the brick wall behind them. A few people left flowers.

The artist is an instructor at the Pacific Northwest College of Art. He lives in Northeast Portland. His work is the first in a planned three-part public art series called 'aLot' started by the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art. The project will go forward, according to Stuart Horodner, PICA's visual arts curator.

Asked who he thought may have done this, Horodner said he couldn't get inside the mind of the perpetrator: 'Drunken stupidity or violence against the project, who knows? But let's put it this way: Somebody lopped off the penis Ñ and it was facing the wall as opposed to the street Ñ so I don't think it was like, 'Oh my god, naked sculpture!' It seems like they knocked it off and took it. Hands were taken. It's pretty kooky, really.'

All the same, Horodner said: 'We're not going to stop doing projects there. We're reclaiming the site. We want to get people talking about the issues in Daniel's work: They were big. Fragile. Powerful. They had interesting contradictions of vulnerability and violence. I think ultimately they're really successful, or this wouldn't have happened. Benign steel cubes don't usually get people this animated.'

While the vandals may have added a new wrinkle to the project's history, 'we'd like to think,' Horodner said, 'that Portland can be a place where things like this are done without incident.'

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