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Artist Sues Federal Contractors for Destroying ‘Border Wall’ Made of Cheese

An Italian artist whose roots inspired a border wall art installation near the U.S.-Mexico border made entirely of blocks of a Mexican hard cheese he made and cured himself sued a federal construction contractor Wednesday for destroying his creation.

SAN DIEGO (CN) — An Italian artist whose roots inspired a border wall art installation near the U.S.-Mexico border made entirely of blocks of a Mexican hard cheese he made and cured himself sued a federal construction contractor Wednesday for destroying his creation.

Cosimo Cavallaro, a Los Angeles-based artist with decades of experience sculpting with food including cheese, ham, chocolate and ketchup, made headlines last year when he began construction on art installation 10 yards away from where the border wall was being extended by the Trump administration along the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego.

Cavallaro planned to build a 1,000-foot wall out of 50+ pound blocks of the Mexican hard cheese Cotija, which he made and salted himself. It was a commentary on the nearby border wall, made of steel.

“His intention was to encourage people to think of the ‘Trump wall’ differently by considering the ephemerality of walls and the waste inherent in building any wall, whether made of cheese or steel. Cavallaro hoped that his work would highlight the perils of sunk-cost fallacy at all levels,” according to the complaint.

Cavallaro told The Los Angeles Times last year: “You see the waste in my wall, but you can’t see the waste in [President Trump’s] $10 billion wall, which in time will be removed?”

The project began in March 2019. By August, the cheese border wall contained some 400 blocks of Cotija and measured 6 feet tall, 3 feet wide and almost 70 feet long. Older cheese blocks from the beginning of the project had already “hardened and turned brown, just as copper sculptures oxidize,” according to the complaint.

But Cavallaro and Art Above Ground, the nonprofit supporting his work, claim in a 12-page lawsuit filed in the Southern District of California on Wednesday that federal contractors building Trump’s border wall trespassed on private property and destroyed the cheese wall.

“Despite months of effort and expense, defendants deprived Cavallaro of his work and prevented him from completing the cheese wall. On or around October 2019, defendants, with wanton disregard or intentional hostility to the cheese wall, its status as piece of art, and its location on private property, destroyed the cheese wall,” Cavallaro claims in the complaint.

The artist claims Texas-based companies SLSCO and Ultimate Concrete buried the cheese wall, “destroying it beyond repair.”

Artist Cosimo Cavallaro stands atop an art installation of the Trump border wall made entirely of blocks of Cotija cheese. Cavallaro says federal contractors building the border wall buried his art installation, destroying it. (Photo courtesy Alan Shaffer)

SLSCO is a federal government contractor hired to complete border wall construction and Ultimate Concrete is a subcontractor on the project, according to the complaint.

“But that work did not require driving through and over the cheese wall, which was on private property 10 yards off the access road to the border wall,” Cavallaro claims.

The companies were also aware the installation was a piece of art, as Israel Evans, an employee of Ultimate Concrete, had donated to Cavallaro’s fundraising campaign for the cheese wall in March 2019, according to the complaint.

Evans contacted Cavallaro on Oct. 23, 2019, asking whether he would like SLSCO to remove the cheese wall, but Cavallaro declined. When Cavallaro returned to the site less than a month later, on Nov. 16, 2019, he found his art installation had been destroyed by heavy machinery.

“Metal slats used for the border wall had also been left on Art Above Ground’s site, despite the fact that it was private property that neither SLSCO, Ultimate Concrete, nor the government had permission to access,” Cavallaro claims.

Cavallaro also says he was unable to get back his $2,000 security deposit to rent the 14-acre property because the landlord complained about the buried cheese bricks left behind.

He claims the construction companies violated the Visual Artists Rights Act in destroying his art installation and causing him economic harm due to lost wages. Cavallaro planned to create bronze cast sculptures of the cheese blocks to sell to collectors and museums, according to the complaint.

Cavallaro is represented by Los Angeles-based attorney Melinda Lemoine with Munger, Tolles & Olson. While Cavallaro wasn’t available for interviews, Lemoine said Cavallaro had spoken to the landlord and “as far as we know, no one asked for permission” to destroy the art installation.

“The financial losses are significant — not only in the lost income from future sales but the lost costs of materials and time spent creating the work,” Lemoine said. “But this is about more than money. The loss of this work has been emotionally devastating to Mr. Cavallaro, and we want those responsible to step up and do the right thing.”

Representatives for SLSCO and Ultimate Concrete did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the lawsuit.

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Categories / Arts, Courts, Government

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