For eight days, Zoellner Arts Center was filled with sound and color as artist Scott Sherk’s interactive SonanceZOELLNER sculpture greeted guests and passerbys. On the ninth day, the sculpture fell silent, its power cord cut by an unknown vandal.
The sculptures are sound machines placed throughout the building that reinvent recorded sounds from six different interior and exterior locations. The cord was found to be cut on March 28, disabling the sculpture and preventing it from producing sound.
“I’m really pretty surprised and kind of disappointed that this would happen on a university campus,” Sherk said. “It is supposed to be a community that fosters the exchange of ideas and disagreement is an important part of the free exchange of ideas.”
Mark Wonsidler, the curatorial associate for exhibitions and collections at Zoellner, called the police to report the crime.
Wonsidler said the sculpture was fixed almost immediately and is now back in its working form. The Lehigh University Art Gallery released a statement condemning the vandalism.
“Such an act is unacceptable in a community that values the free exchange of ideas,” the statement said. “Art is at times complex and provocative. We may disagree about the merits of the individual works, but not their right to exist.”
Wonsidler said in his 17 years working at Lehigh, there have been other acts of vandalism. They occured on Lehigh’s extensive outdoor sculpture collection, and Wonsidler deemed them harmless and prank-like in nature.
“This is, I would say, by far the most malicious thing that I have seen in the time that I have been here,” Wonsidler said.
Wonsidler said the vandalism toward Sherk’s piece is unusual, and Lehigh’s climate regarding the arts has largely been positive and respectful.
Alex Wismer, the interim department coordinator of the Lehigh University Art Gallery, said there has been no further information regarding the culprit.
Sherk said he will continue his scheduled talk on April 20. He will discuss his newest work and hopes to have positive conversation about the vandalism, if necessary, but it will not be the focus of his talk.
“I am going to talk about what I have done, and I think that having a little bit of an explanation always helps and is a gateway for art of any kind,” Sherk said.
Wonsidler said due to the constant sound generated by the sculpture, there had been an ongoing conversation and negotiations between the working population of Zoellner and those who were in charge of the collection.
While the pieces are now operating at a muted volume, they will be playing at the full, original volume intended by Sherk on April 20. Sherk said vandalism and violence are not the right ways to express disagreement.
“The history of public art always involves an encounter with the public,” Wonsidler said. “Whenever you put something into a space that is not a neutral space, there is a conflict of interests.”