A judge blocks the demolition of a groundbreaking Iowa art installation

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A federal judge has temporarily blocked plans to remove a nationally known outdoor artwork that borders a pond in a Des Moines city park, finding the New York artist who created the work is likely to succeed in her argument that destroying the work would violate her contract with a local art center.

U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Locher ordered the temporary restraining order Monday afternoon after hearing arguments earlier in the day about the Des Moines Art Center’s plans to remove the artwork, called Greenwood Pond: Double Site. The center had planned to begin a roughly three-month process of draining the pond and tearing out the artwork this week.

Officials at the art center say the work, completed in 1996, has deteriorated beyond repair and now is hazardous to park visitors. The artwork offers different perspectives of Greenwood Pond, including wooden decks over the water and walkways that let people see the water and wetlands at eye-level and from above.

The work is seen as a highlight of land artist Mary Miss. Other artists and arts organizations across the country have expressed outrage about plans to remove the installation rather than try to raise money for repairs.

Miss has argued the art center hasn’t kept her informed about the work she created and would violate a contract that requires the wood, concrete and metal artwork to be maintained and not removed without her permission.

“I am pleased and relieved by Judge Locher’s decision not only for what it has done for Greenwood Pond: Double Site, but because it reaffirms the rights of all artists and the integrity of their legacies,” Miss said in a statement. “Let’s use this opportunity to reach an outcome of which we can all be proud.”

Art center officials, who have estimated it would cost $2.6 million to repair the artwork, said public safety was its top concern but it would abide by the court-ordered pause. Much of the artwork now is surrounded by fencing.

“We respect the court’s decision, and we will be pausing plans to remove the artwork from Greenwood Park,” the art center said in a statement. “The sections declared dangerous and unsalvageable will remain enclosed in protective fencing.

The judge will set a hearing later for Miss’ request for a preliminary injunction to continue a delay to demolition plans while the contract dispute works through the courts.

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