Mike Osterhout
“Broken Burned Stolen Defaced”

Spanning more than forty years of work within a myriad of disciplines including Social Sculpture, Conceptual, Craft and Performance Art, Broken Burned Stolen Defaced features a comprehensive selection of Osterhout’s aesthetic aggressions. Dividing his broad oeuvre into a set of four distinct gestures- breaking, burning, defacing and stealing- this survey brings to focus the anarchic vandalism, iconoclasm and absurdist humor underpinning his fine art of provocation.

A heretic hybrid of three different cultures- San Francisco, where he first honed his slyly subversive conceptualism, New York City where he worked and exhibited as an artist throughout the Eighties, and Sullivan County, where he was born and raised and has been working now for the past twenty-five years. Mike Osterhout queries the boundaries between ownership and collectivity, license and culpability, intention and circumstance in ways that obviate the distinction between art and artifact.

Charting the phenomenology of entropy and destruction, Osterhout’s mediation of the quotidian is in turns hilarious and disquieting, poetic and problematic. A flower of our folly it is at once thorny and seductive. Like an alchemical fermentation, his art accumulates the neglected and needless manufactures of our materialist world and lets them seep into one another, as cause and effect, producing objects that are familiar and strange, sacred and profane.

Embracing the cycles of robbery and retribution, the very same deliberate interventions against property that Osterhout takes liberties with often share the same fate themselves. Both Osterhout’s patterns of theft and damage and the way they are taken or vandalized by others, offer a manner of call and response between the virus of free-thinking and the hegemony of the body politic, a chorus of mutually assured destruction. Exhibiting his own delinquent pranks of appropriation and mutilation alongside evidence of how his work either been so riotously entertaining as to be stolen or so offensive as to be attacked, together they measure the karmic balance of a world totally out of whack. Founded on a profound sense of empathy and appreciation for his community, make no mistake about it; this is the work of a trickster, neither too kind nor trustworthy.

- Carlo McCormick