Priya Gandhi retold the story of Ed Brzezinski, who, on a visit to a Robert Gober exhibition, ate one of the donuts from his piece called “Bag of Donuts”, as well as other accounts of museum go-ers treating exhibits as interactive art installations (when they weren’t):
In 1989, the New York Post reported that Ed Brzezinski, on a visit to Robert Gober’s exhibition at Paula Cooper Gallery, ate one of the donuts from Gober’s “Bag of Donuts” (1989). Brzezinski later said that the donut, coated in synthetic resin for preservation, “tasted stale.”
“Okay, I was hungry. I’d been drinking and I hadn’t eaten anything all day,” he said, post-ingestion. People were upset — likely because Brzezinski did not take seriously the delicate presence that the gallery and museum space requires of the viewer. He was hungry.
I don’t believe that these incidents are as simple as negligence and idiocy (though some of that is present). To me, there are no wrong ways to respond to art, only unaccepted ones — and even the unaccepted ones highlight integral questions of purpose. I do not advocate the destruction of art. Rather, I ask a question that seems simple at first glance, but is complicated by defacement: What do we want from our encounters with art? The answer is at the root of our human relationship with an object and reflects the value we get from that encounter. The importance of the question of purpose cannot be undervalued. We value our institutions vigorously; to allow them to serve us, and for us to serve them, they have to allow people the room to make mistakes.
For the most part, I see signs that explicitly tell observers not to touch art or cross the marked lines on the floor. If you disobey those rules, then you’re being ignorant and deserve the consequences. I may draw the line at stolen artefacts though but good luck reclaiming them without getting caught.