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Monday, 25 October, 1999, 17:01 GMT 18:01 UK
Art attacks: Don't handle with care
Tracey Emin's My Bed
Tracey Emin's bed attacked - the rest is history
A famous work by one of Britain's best known artists, on display in a world respected gallery, is pounced upon by semi-clad miscreants. This may be many an art lover's worst nightmare, but maybe they've actually done Tracey Emin's bed a favour.

E-cyclopedia
The creative powers summoned by artists to execute their works have often been matched by the destructive powers unleashed against them - but seldom is a destroyed artwork a forgotten one.

Already the star exhibit of the Turner Prize exhibition at London's Tate Gallery, My Bed has been given countless more column inches and airtime thanks to the pillow-fighting antics of two self-styled "visual artists".

Rachel Whiteread
Rachel Whiteread wards off the bulldozers
Some of the vodka may be missing from the bottles, which stand guard around the bed, and the sheets may be even dirtier, but Emin's work has gotten off lighter than many.

Sculptor Rachel Whiteread, twice shortlisted for the lucrative Turner Prize, was less fortunate.

In 1993, her piece House, the concrete cast of a demolished terrace home in London's East End, picked up the 20,000 award. The inside-out dwelling also attracted a 40,000 prize as the year's worst artwork from pop-stars-turned-pranksters the K Foundation.

Neither award cut much ice with Tower Hamlets council. The local authority in the deprived area sent the bulldozers in to finish off 193 Grove Road and assure it a place in art myth.

Que sera sera

American Richard Serra can empathise with such public hostility. The minimalist sculptor was forced into the spotlight when his work Tilted Arc was installed in Federal Plaza, Manhattan.

The 120ft-long steel structure curved gracefully across the square. However, its simple grace was lost on workers who were unable to make a beeline for their offices.

Richard Serra sculpture
Serra in London: Art at your convenience
In 1989, as Berliners were dismantling their city's most hated obstruction, Serra's wall was cut from its foundations and hoisted away.

London desk jockeys have a greater love of Serra's efforts. His sculpture at Liverpool Street Station is much favoured by commuters caught short at closing time.

It is increasingly hard to stand out in contemporary art, but the odd episode of unsolicited vandalism has proven to do the trick.

In 1997, the Sensation exhibition at the Royal Academy contained many controversial works, but for all of the pickled animals it was a painting which provoked the greatest debate.

The art of discussion

Marcus Harvey's portrait of Moors murderer Myra Hindley elicited comment before it was attacked with ink and eggs. But the assault by outraged protesters made Harvey a household name and saw his work discussed at many a dining table.

And German artist Joseph Beuys suffered at the hands of less enraged critics when a cleaner inadvertently scrubbed a bath clean. Like Emin's bed, the soil had actually been part of his artistic toil.

Marcus Harvey's Myra Hindley
Harvey's portrait made from child's handprints
Some artists not only welcome the debate prompted by their works being trashed - they are even grateful for the creative input.

Mischievous Marcel Duchamp spent nearly eight years working on his piece The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even - a complex collage and collection of items encased between two large panes of glass.

When removals men accidentally smashed the finished product, Duchamp - always keen on chance and accident - took it on the chin and said he thought it was just what the work needed.

Such nonchalance certainly did his reputation no harm.

The E-cyclopedia can be contacted at e-cyclopedia@bbc.co.uk

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See also:

24 Oct 99 | UK
Feathers fly at art show
20 Oct 99 | UK
The Turner Prize draw
06 Aug 99 | Entertainment
Sensational hit for Royal Academy
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