Gerald Minkoff “Video Blind Piece” (1980) / gardener
This open-air work was destroyed while on view as part of the 1980 Swiss Sculpture Exhibition in Bienne, Switzerland. Consisting of 14 exhausted television tubes buried in the ground with screens facing upward, the work was installed on May 24 near a public path - but due to construction delays, the installation took place before the surrounding ground had been leveled and fully sown with grass.
On June 19, when Minkoff returned to take documentation photographs of the finished piece, he was surprised to find the grounds in a finished state, but with no trace of his work. Exhibition organizers soon explained that the tubes had been mistakenly removed and destroyed by Oskar Fischer, the gardener responsible for the grounds.
Once informed of his error, Fischer placed an ad in the paper: “Urgently wanted: 14 old television tubes (uniform format 59x29) to restore a sculpture of the sculpture exhibition not recognized as such and for this reason removed to the refuse dump.” Minkoff, however, refused, claiming he could neither redo his work nor “tolerate any duplicate,” since the piece had been installed by him “specially on the ground indicated to this effect” and was thus “original and unique.” He then asked the exhibition organizers for the payment of the insurance value (14,000 Swiss francs), the reimbursement of his travels, and an indemnity of 5,000 francs.
In the following days, Fischer’s ad caught the attention of local newspapers, who ran pieces with headlines like, “Work of Art Looked Like Refuse: Away With It!” In one article, Fischer was quoted as saying, “I am no philistine. On the contrary, even provocative art appeals to me. It was all a mistake.”
The articles raised awareness of the event, leading to numerous offers to donate television tubes. Minkoff soon wrote the exhibition organizers, saying he was “ready, not to reconstitute a duplicate (a question of ethics), but to execute an analogous piece, ‘Video Blind Piece no. 2,’” on the condition that half his previous requirements be paid and that the new installation be given broad press coverage. But in preparation, when organizers attempted to make Fischer legally responsible “for all consequences arising from the regrettable incident,” both prior and future, he refused, saying the mistake could have happened to any other contractor. Fischer and then Minkoff each hired lawyers, spending the following weeks contesting responsibility and the work’s financial value. No agreements were reached, and in the end, the work was not replaced.