Legendary painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso once said, “The urge to destroy is also a creative urge.”
While the late Spanish sage might not look too kindly on someone taking a chainsaw to “Guernica” or “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” he probably would support what happened Friday night in downtown Merced.
In the spirit of creating and destroying art, about 125 people turned out for “Artageddon: Judgment Day.” Held at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center, the event was a combination art competition and fundraiser. Proceeds from the event went to the arts center and participating artists.
The first phase of “Artageddon” happened Oct. 26, when 17 artists gathered to create paintings for the competition. On Friday, a single-elimination tournament was held during which the paintings were randomly selected in four rounds and pitted against one another for the audience to judge by cheering and applauding. An on-stage “sound meter” determined which paintings garnered the most cheers. Losing paintings were placed on a chopping block, and event host Joe Hypes spun a “Wheel of Death” to decide how they were destroyed.
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The only way a painting could be saved was if an audience member purchased it during an auction, with prices for each painting starting at $125. However, if the wheel hit “Instant Death,” the paintings were destroyed regardless.
Many paintings did not survive the chopping block. Oftentimes, some audience members began to chant “instant death” – and organizers eagerly obliged the ravenous throng’s nihilistic appetites. In the same way Martin Sheen slayed Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now,” with extreme prejudice the organizers quickly dispatched those paintings that were not fortunate enough to be rescued by a benevolent audience member.
The losing paintings were destroyed using chainsaws, survival knives, swords, crowbars and a paintball gun. Some met their fate in an “acid bath.”
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UC Merced biology student Elizabeth Garcia’s painting was among those that survived the carnage. Garcia, who painted a scene in Venice, Italy, won the event, taking home a first place prize of $500.
Garcia said she decided to compete in the tournament at the urging of her friends, and her winning painting was just the fourth she had ever done using acrylics. “There were some really good paintings, and I am sad some got to be destroyed,” she said.
Joey Essig, operations director of the Merced Arts Council and co-organizer of the event, called it “barely organized chaos – which is exactly what we were looking for.”
He was inspired to present “Artageddon“ by a similar event put on by the nonprofit Primary Colours in Indianapolis. He heard about that event from arts supporter Alan Schoff. “He brought it up the first time and I really loved it,” Essig said.
Essig doesn’t necessarily see the idea of destroying art to save it as being unorthodox. “The whole evening is this great concept of immediate valuation. The audience is in charge of all of this, and you throw in the randomness of the (Wheel of Death),” Essig said. “So there is sudden death, but other than that, every piece of art has a chance to be bought. So the audience is faced with this decision of ‘How much do I value this? How much do I value art in general? And how much do I value this piece?’”
Tom Price, publisher of Downtown Life Magazine and event co-organizer, agreed the point of the event was to highlight the value of art. “Art is so often viewed as this free thing that exists around people. And this forces people to say ‘I want that art. I don’t want it to be destroyed.’ So they are forced to put a value on it.”
Co-organizer Jordan Cowman said the nature of the event also helps draw people who might not normally visit the arts center on a Friday night. “It’s sacrilege to some people that we would even consider destroying art. But I think if people are talking about it, if people are thinking about it, if people are even considering buying it, then as far as I’m concerned, we’re kickstarting what’s happening for art in Merced,” he said.
Organizers said the event was a success and plan to hold another “Artageddon” tournament next year.