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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Calendar > Arts and Culture

Art installation defaced in Mountaindale

By Rebeca C. Rivera - reporter/photographer

FALLSBURG — Residents and visitors of Mountaindale are asking themselves an important question after an art installation went up in the center of town last week - What makes art “art”?
Less than three days after Mike Osterhout installed sculptures in Mountaindale's Social Sculpture Park, the work was tarnished by graffiti. The site featured large-scale art pieces that included a billboard sign that read “God Loves Dykes” as well as a faceless crucified Jesus called “Jesus Selfie” and a pair of upside-down American Flags. Osterhout is well known in the area for his community group, Church of the Little Green Man, and his artwork that revolves around creating a dialogue about issues such as politics, religion, and gender.
The exhibit made its debut on Friday, July 20, a weekend that many residents saw as the re-birth for the area. Over the past few years, parts of Main Street in Mountaindale have been purchased by the Resnick group who have worked to renovate and revive the forgotten hamlet. And that weekend marked a newly minted persona with the opening of a restaurant, retail shop, and exhibition space.

The site of the sculpture park is privately owned by Butch Resnick. Osterhout asked Resnick if he could use the space for an outdoor gallery. The site would not only feature Osterhout's work but also curated pieces by other artists in the county.
“I started doing this kind of public work around 6 or 7 years [ago], and I thought I'd make it more public,” stated Osterhout, whose “intent is to engage [the community]” with his art form and subject matter. During this time, he created a billboard series, which was initially installed in front of Osterhout's home and featured a mixture of religious and sexually pervasive words. Unfortunately, the billboards were broken by young boys. However, Osterhout was not deterred by such actions and left the damaged signage up, and according to him, the pieces have been fine since then.
“Neither of the pieces had problems at my house. As soon as I took them to Mountaindale, it was only a matter of days before they were defaced,” he said.
Earlier this year, Osterhout installed a car with an apple tree growing out from the inside in the park evoking an environmentalist message as people picked and ate the fruit that grew from the tree. Osterhout is realistic about people's reaction to his work stating, “My work is a bit provocative, so it's not a complete surprise. It kinda comes with the territory when you do this kind of stuff.”
For him, this action against his work is “part of the grand scheme of working this way.”
Public Reaction
NAACP President, Sandra Oxford, took center-stage of this conversation arguing, “What was done there was wrong. You cannot deface someone's property because you disagree with it.” She also acknowledged the message that each piece conveyed, stating, “I know that the Jesus Selfie is offensive, but it's a statement. We live in the culture of the selfie. It's perfect.”
Some questioned the process that the artist took to display his pieces and according to Osterhout, “Since it's private property, as long as you're not trying to sell something, as long as it's art, it's freedom of speech.” He also added, “I don't have to go through the town to put anything up on my property, and I don't have to go through the town to put anything up on Butch's property as long as Butch agrees with it.”
Oxford saw the billboard signage, which had the Hebrew word covered by the black paint, as an affirmation for the LGBTQ community. However, some residents are fearful of what might happen to their property if they put something up that a person does not agree with or finds offensive. Two residents, who wished to remain anonymous, felt that the graffiti was an act against freedom of speech and that the voices of the LGBTQ community do not matter to the perpetrator. “We took a picture at the site, and there was a lot of people around who seemed to be happy,” they stated. As for the artwork itself, “It's also very different because of the terminology that is used … and the artist definitely wanted something to be said about this.”
Osterhout has chosen to take down the tarnished pieces because he does not want to bring negative attention to an area that is ushering in a new and bright future.
For Oxford, “I hope that there is respect for these peoples' property and for our neighbor's art. I would hope that he is going to get the full support from all of the authority of the Town of Fallsburg and at the county level.”
According to the Fallsburg Police Department, the vandalism is still under investigation, and there is no lead as to who the perpetrator may be. For now, Osterhout is considering installing a camera system to monitor the park and to prevent such actions from happening again.

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