The Art We’ll Never See

Art is always associated with creation. But it isn’t always true. Very often masters act under impulse and destroy their pieces. That is why we have decided to tell you about some works of contemporary artists nobody is going to see anymore – it is the only way we can perpetuate them in history.

Self-destructing sculptures of Jean Tinguely


Swiss-born master Jean Tinguely explored various formats of art, producing kinetic sculptures of numerous details that were composed in difficult mechanisms often useless and absurd. His works could be started up only once, because they were built to destroy themselves. In 1960 he together with Robert Rauschenberg and Billy Klüver installed two large-scale sculptures in the courtyard of the Museum of Modern Arts in New-York and in the desert near Las-Vegas. The ‘machine’ lived for 1,5 hours and set itself on fire. They even had to call a fire-brigade in New-York, since the fire was threatening the museum’s building. Since that time no temporary exhibitions are held in the courtyard.

Self destructing sculptures of Jean Tinguely

Francis Bacon – The portrait of Cecil Beaton

Francis Bacon The portrait of Cecil BeatonIn 1959 an outstanding British artist Francis Bacon met a photographer Cecil Beaton. Bacon had complicated relations with that ‘photographic medium,’ yet each of them were attracted by the bright personality of the other. Soon the artist decided to make a portrait of his friend, who had visited his studio several times, but never sat calmly as a model there, permanently pacing across the room. When the painting was ready Beaton described it as “an enormous, coloured strip-cartoon of a completely bald, dreadfully aged–nay senile–businessman.”

When the photographer had returned home, Bacon called him, telling he had destroyed the portrait. Bacon never left works that their heroes didn’t like. So humanity was now one masterpiece short.

Maurizio Cattelan – Sculpture of the artist with his head in the plate of spaghetti

Maurizio Cattelan SpaghettiItalian author Maurizio Cattelan is known for his realistic sculptures, some of which depicts historical personalities, like Pope or Hitler, in surrealistic situations. One of his works that represented the artist himself with his face planted in the plate of spaghetti, was destroyed by Maurizio in 2004, in order to vex gallerists and curators, who had begged not to do that as his art was expensive. Cattelan shattered the sculpture into pieces and placed in a concrete block. That didn’t stop the Whitney Museum in New York to buy. The institution opened a new building this years, projected by Renzo Piano and the concrete block with the piece immured in it was solemnly brought to the new venue in Chelsea.

Peter Hoffman – Fox River Derivatives

Peter Hoffman Fox River Derivatives

Photographer Peter Hoffman researched physical features of a photo shot in a pretty radical way – by destroying it. In a short, his Fox River Derivatives was dedicated to the environmental pollution: he pictured by-products of oil refinement, spilled in the Fox River, which runs near Chicago. Peter immersed negatives of the photographs in gasoline and ignited them, and then soaked them in water. As the result, he got distorted images, which looked more like hallucinations. Thus the series combines the visuality of form, process of its creation and its content.

Pieces of Gerhard Richter

Pieces of Gerhard Richter

During his early creative period, German author Gerhard Richter used to make paintings, based on photographs, mainly connected with personal memories. Now they are highly valued by art historians, gallerists and collectors as well. But at that time Richter had a very specific attitude towards his paintings. Being highly self-critical he used to destroy his works. By the estimates of art experts because of the Richter’s aversion for his own art we are missing now around 60 works of the photographical period. German Spiegel magazine has counted up artist’s losses because of those actions: today the destroyed works would have costed $655 millions. Yet, they are not completely lost. Richter felt like being close with his creations and usually took a photo of a painting before destroying it.

Assemblages of Robert Rauschenberg

Assemblages of Robert RauschenbergHis pieces an American author Robert Rauschenberg made of non-conventional materials. He applied garbage, textiles, withered plants for them. Once he even used a stuffed goat in his work! While travelling around Italy in 1950s with his friend and lover Cy Twomboly (who is also known for vigorous painting manner), Rauschenberg produced a lot of assemblages from rubbish and found objects. Some of them were displayed in Italian galleries, but not all of them were sold. Desperate because of the criticism he heard, the artist threw quite a few in the Arno river in Florence. And now the works of a great American are probably somewhere at the bottom of the Ligurian Sea.

Paintings of John Baldessari

Paintings of John BaldessariOne of ‘fathers’ of conceptualism, John Baldessari, began his career with images, where he stick up color spots on the faces of the heroes from world-recognized masterpieces (of Manet, Gauguin and others). The artist explained he did it because faces irritated him. But at a certain point Baldessari became irritated with painting media in general. In 1970 he had the creative crisis, as he couldn’t employ the technique that had made him famous. Moreover, his pieces suddenly became in demand. Upset, he burnt all paintings, done between 1953 and 1966, in a local crematorium. It was a part of ‘The Cremation Project’: the ashes of the canvases were baked into cookies and placed into an urn in the installation of a bronze commemorative plaque (with the destroyed paintings’ dates of life) and the recipe for making the cookies. May 1966 was the day, when John graduated from the college and, as the artist wrote, was no longer obligated to make art.

Very soon Baldessari has radically changed his artistic language, started working with phots and texts, applying images from pop-culture. This’s what he keeps doing till nowadays.

Michael Landy – The Break Down

Michael Landy The Break Down

Michael Landy is one of the representatives of Young British Artists group (Damien Hirst, Angus Fairhurst and Tracey Emin also belong to it). The artists of this group explored contemporary society on the border zone of social criticism and existential experience of a lonely person in a huge city.

Michael decided to undertake a radical step, organizing a performance The Break Down (2001). During it he had catalogued all his possessions, including clothes automobile and paintings (among them works of the other artists) – 7 277 items in total. He moved them to the venue (C&A store in Oxford Street), where destroyed them for two weeks. All things were put on a conveyor belt; ten workers removed objects from it , shredding and smashing them afterwards. All in all, the performance resulted in 6 tones of rubbish.‘ The Break Down’ caused protest among some of Landy’s colleagues – Tracey Emin in particular, as some of her pieces were in the artist’s collection and it was difficult for her to go through their destruction.

With a help of the performance Michael hasn’t only expressed his remonstrance against consumeristic society, but revealed his own emotional state – rejection from the past, embodied in all things, turned to be a kind of psychotherapy for Landy.

Museum of Casoria

Museum of CasoriaIt’s not only artists, who are capable of destruction in the state of despair. Casoria Contemporary Art Museum (Casoria, the Province of Naples) struggled after several years without normal financing. Sick of the state authorities’ inertia, the director of the museum Antonio Manfredi (who’s an artist himself) decided that extermination of the collection would be a symbolical solution. In 2012 He started burning one painting from the museum’s fund a day, threatening to continue doing that if money wouldn’t be appropriated, since without them existence of the institution was impossible. Artists from across Europe have shown their support, including Welsh sculptor John Brown, who torched one of his works. Curiously the idea to destroy museum’s collection resembles to the calls of Italian Futurists of 1910s to fight against all traditional art forms.

Latest Articles