The art world has an extensive history of artists intentionally destroying their own works, with the most well-known example falling on legendary conceptual artist John Baldessari, who burned all of the artworks he had made between 1953 and 1966 in 1970, and baked the resulting ashes into cookies and placed them into an urn. New York State-based artist Ian McMahon is the next in line in this artistic tradition with the April 22nd destruction of his sculpture, Sojourn.
Different than Baldessari, whose self-destruction was intended to signify a new direction in his career after years of reflection, McMahon destroyed Sojourn because it cannot be physically removed from T + H Gallery, where it was on display.
The sculpture, which consisted of a series of cast, inflated plastic bags made to resemble huge pillows, was constructed within the confines of the Boston gallery over 12 days. After assembly was finished and the bags inflated to reach the gallery’s ceiling, the artist covered the pillows in plaster, which, beyond altering the physicality of the piece, prevented an easy deflation to remove it from the space. Sojourn had to be destroyed to exit the space.
All of this is no accident—the artist had intended for this result the whole time: “I was certainly aware from its conception that Sojourn would be immovable from the gallery. For some time now this has been the format that I operate with in making work,” McMahon iterates to The Creators Project. “It started from a necessity; the work's scale and material choices made it hard to move from a site. Over time, the lifespan of a piece and its inevitable demise became a driving component in the conceptual underpinnings of the work.”
Perhaps the strangest part about Sojourn’s destruction was its display in a gallery, where the end goal is generally the sale of a work. Despite this, it seems that the gallery is comfortable with the result: “T + H invited me to do this show knowing the nature of my work and its temporal lifespan,” McMahon explains. “I feel that they are really interested in bringing a wide array of work to the Boston area and were willing to take on a project of this nature given their interest in trying to share this work with a larger audience.”
The destruction of Sojourn wasn't be a public event—but viewers could see the physically imposing sculpture in person until April 22nd and view its digital documentation indefinitely. More of Ian McMahon’s work can be seen here.