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Want To Throw Away Art And Don’t Know How?

Artist Bob Matheny, founder of the San Diego branch of Art Disposal Service, ...

Above: Artist Bob Matheny, founder of the San Diego branch of Art Disposal Service, passes the torch and cloak to curator Dave Hampton.

Are you tired of seeing so much art in San Diego? All the murals and waterfront sculptures got you down? KPBS culture reporter Angela Carone says a company called Art Disposal Service is hoping to solve the problem of too much art in the city.

Artist John Manno eats a plate of spaghetti with an art book at his feet.

In the late '60s, artist John Manno used to park his van in front of chic Los Angeles galleries. It had a large sign on its side that read, “Art Disposal Service.” Manno was there to get rid of unnecessary art.

He eventually leased a San Diego franchise of Art Disposal Service to local artist Bob Matheny, who taught in the art department at Southwestern College. Matheny signed a contract, kept the name, and quickly designed a lab coat for himself.

For the last 40 years, Matheny, now 84, has tried to get artists, collectors and curators to take their excess art to the dump. “Business has been bad,” said Matheny sitting in his Point Loma studio surrounded by art. “It’s almost impossible to get artists to dispose of their own work because of, you know, the ego.”

San Diego artist Bob Matheny, founder of the local branch of Art Disposal Service, in his studio. He's holding a mock-up of a sculpture by his friend and collaborator Armando Muñoz Garcia.

Matheny thinks artists make more art than they need to, collectors hoard too much of it, and museums have basements full of the stuff. He offered his disposal services for free, hoping to put an end to the “pollution.” Matheny and his students made a trip to the Otay dump in 1969 and bulldozed some art. One student lay down in front of the bulldozer in protest. But that was the only time the Art Disposal Service had any work.

On Friday, March 15 (Beware the Ides!) Matheny will sign the business over to local curator Dave Hampton, in a public ceremony at Bread and Salt in Barrio Logan.

Despite a weak sales forecast and little consumer demand, Hampton plans to beef up operations.

“There’s a lot to do,” said Hampton, who’s known Matheny for years. “There’s art all over the place. I drive downtown and they’ve got these sculptures on the sidewalk and things sticking off of buildings. Drive up the 5 and there are those shiny steel things. Apparently we really like our art but I’m not so sure about it.”

One afternoon while smoking cigars and talking about the history of the local art scene, Matheny told Hampton about Art Disposal Service. He showed him the official contract signed with Manno.

Hampton decided it was time to breathe new life into the idea. “It’s a glorious concept,” said Hampton. “Just seeing an art disposal van pull up in front of a popular gallery on opening night. That’s the cornerstone of this project.” Hampton believes the community dialogue sparked by Art Disposal Service is its most valuable service. “Look, I don’t know what is good or bad art. I just know there’s an awful lot of it. Maybe too much.”

Matheny admits the whole idea has always been a mix of the serious and the tongue-in-cheek. But when a microphone is in front of him, as it was for a radio interview I conducted, Matheny stayed in character: “I’m as serious as one could get. I’m passionate about the idea of too much art. It boils down to artists doing 10 pieces in a series instead of 30.”

Just one wall of Matheny's studio. The wall of his home and studio showcase an extensive art collection.

When asked if he could abide by those rules in his own art, the prolific artist didn’t miss a beat. “Well, no, of course not.”

Friday’s ceremony will feature music composed specifically for the disposal of art. “Fanfare for Paperwork” was composed by local musician and composer, Chris Fulford-Brown. Hampton plans to build more music into the array of services offered by Art Disposal Service. He noted that each act of disposal, whether burning or bulldozing, is ceremonial and should have just the right music.

Art Disposal Service is a small operation. There’s some concern that after Friday’s public ceremony (attendance is expected to range between 8-9 people), the company will get flooded with calls. One gallery owner has already “expressed interest.” Hampton says if people have the urge to throw art away, they don’t need to wait for the professionals. “They should take matters into their own hands,” he explained. Matheny nodded in agreement and added, “We all have trash cans.”

A ceremony marking the leadership change at Art Disposal Service will take place on Friday, March 15th at 12noon at Bread & Salt, on Julian Street in San Diego.


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