California’s Coachella Valley is currently the site of Desert X, a mostly outdoor biennial-style exhibition of artworks around an area where environmental conditions can be inhospitable and intense. But mysterious circumstances of a seemingly unnatural kind have led to one work being banished for good.
On Instagram on Tuesday evening, artist Eric N. Mack revealed that Halter (2019), a large-scale sculpture featuring patterned fabrics draped over a disused gas station near the Salton Sea, disappeared. Mack stated that the work had been “vandalized, burned, and stolen.” Exhibition officials have said that what happened and why is unclear, and that they had found evidence that pieces of the work could have been cut and burned.
Mack wrote on Instagram, “As I process the loss of this artwork that I and many others worked tirelessly to realize, I am only pacified by knowing that many visitors experienced and appreciated it as it was. While the violence and hate enacted on this installation is astounding, I will not allow for this disregard to become a gesture that obstructs nor defines this work of art.”
Reached on Wednesday, Neville Wakefield, Desert X’s artistic director, acknowledged the prospect of vandalism but expressed uncertainty over the situation to ARTnews. “We have no clue at this point as to the motivation, why, and who it might have been,” he said, while also citing the possibility of environmental factors figuring into the sculpture’s fate. “The desert does reclaim works in many ways. Eric’s was an amazing piece but very fragile and susceptible to weather conditions. It was a dissertation on wind and fragility. It was always vulnerable.”
Writing for ARTnews about the exhibition, Janelle Zara noted that the work, which featured fabrics gifted to Mack by the fashion line Missoni, “evokes the shape of a Bedouin tent.” According a description of the work on the Desert X website, the surrounding environment’s desert winds were intended to rip the installation’s fabrics to shreds over the show’s run.
Halter is not the only work to have been removed from Desert X. In the days leading up to the exhibition’s opening in February, exhibition officials said they would postpone showing Jenny Holzer’s light-projection piece BEFORE I BECAME AFRAID (2019) over fears expressed by environmental activists that it would harm wildlife in the area.
Wakefield said that Desert X has no plans to mount a new version of Halter, which he said had proved significant during its run. “A lot of people got to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s been a hugely popular piece, and it survived elements. We’re all terribly sad that it’s gone in this manner, but rather than pointing fingers at causes that we don’t know, I would be inclined to celebrate its existence.”
Mack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.