Broken fingers Crushed art: Sculptor didn't think sensibilities mattered, then vandals defied the law.

March 11, 1997

TO THE VANDALS who smashed the controversial "Fingers of Fear" exhibit in front of the Maryland Institute, College of Art: Destruction is not art criticism.

And to the young artist who created the sculpture, including a condom-covered digit, situated between a church and a grade school on a public median: Judiciousness is not necessarily censorship.

The sculpture by 22-year-old art student Steve Jones offended some people in Bolton Hill. His five plaster and concrete "fingers," each a few feet tall, included a wrinkled thumb that symbolized fear of aging and one with a wedding band that represented fear of marriage, the artist said. But it was the one sheathed in a condom that aroused concern.

The finger was not especially pornographic. But the Maryland Institute, after fielding complaints that the work disturbed passers-by on their way to Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, a senior center or the Mount Royal Intermediate School, appropriately advised Mr. Jones to move the work to a less conspicuous site. The artist did so, then moved it back under a black shroud in protest.

Early Saturday, someone smashed it to bits. Police have a videotape from a security camera. The vandals should be caught and prosecuted.

The artist argued that his discomforting creation was meant to send a powerful message about AIDS and sex. But neither the school nor community was censoring the message. They were simply concerned about its surroundings.

Artists who think such sensibilities prudish or ignorant should consider this from a recent poll by the University of Baltimore's Schaefer Center for Public Policy: The only area of government funding in which at least a fifth of respondents thought less should be spent was the arts. The controversy over public money for vulgar art still resonates years after the National Endowment for the Arts was lambasted for underwriting Robert Mapplethorpe. It is why Republicans in the state legislature brazenly and shortsightedly propose large cuts in arts funding without fear of public backlash.

Unfortunately, an artist who believes that his message should not be deterred by the environment around it has just crossed paths with lawless people who believe they can do as they please with someone else's property.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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