Los Angeles, California, USA
An Italian-Canadian 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.
Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, architecture critic and Museum President of The Chicago Athenaeum: Museum of Architecture and Design states: “The destruction of Cavallaro’s art installation is an outrageous act that violates the artists’ moral rights and his moral integrity and is a devastating, malicious commentary about how the U.S. government views contemporary art.”
“The destruction of the Cheese Wall has caused great distress to Cavallaro. His artistic vision has been left unfulfilled. Cavallaro has been deprived of the opportunity to communicate his artistic message through the Cheese Wall — a message he has spent years contemplating — and to see the Cheese Wall, at its full length, stand in contrast to the border wall.”
“Bulldoze is the right word to describe the destruction of Cavallaro’s art,” Narkiewicz-Laine continues.
The artist and sculptor is now suing the construction company hired by the federal government that defaced the cheese wall he made on a separate and private plot of land 10 yards away from the US/Mexico steel border wall in San Diego.
Cavallaro’s claim is grounded in the Visual Artist Right’s Act and trespass to private property. Cavallaro used over 400 blocks of Cotija, a hard Mexican cheese, molded into blocks, to build this wall. In November 2019, without it being completed, nor allowing the use and enjoyment of the art piece, it is alleged that the subcontractor SLSCO destroyed the sculpture by bulldozing the blocks into the ground and otherwise destroying the blocks. The sculpture was on private property leased by non-profit Art Above Ground, for the purpose of the sculpture and later bronze casts of the sculpture to be displayed in museums.
Cavallaro began painstakingly building “Cheese Wall” at the end of 2018 as a protest of President Trump’s billion-dollar partition at the border with Mexico, according to court papers filed in San Diego federal court this month.
Cavallaro, 59, is well known for his work with “perishable materials.” He has made a life-sized sculpture of Jesus out of chocolate, covered supermodel Twiggy in cheese, and coated a hotel room on the Upper West Side in 1,000 pounds of the melted stuff in 1999.
“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,” said the artist, according to court papers.
Los Angeles-based Cavallaro and co-plaintiff Art Above Ground, a non-profit, are suing SLSCO Ltd., a Texas-based construction company, and a subsidiary. They accuse the company, which is helping to build the border wall, of “willfully” trespassing on the site of his art installation and burying the cheese structure with bulldozers.
Cavallaro, who is seeking unspecified damages, claims he had already assembled some 400 blocks of cheese to build a 6-foot high, 3-foot wide and 70-foot long barrier. It’s in southeastern San Diego County on a 14-acre plot of private land that Art Above Ground rented 10 yards from the real wall. The artist was in the process of raising funds in order to extend the structure for 1,000 feet, the complaint says.
Artist seeks support to build ‘cheese wall’ at Mexico border
End custom flag area Cotija, which Cavallaro made and salted himself, is a hard cheese. Rather than melt, each 50-pound brick in Cavallaro’s wall became further hardened and turned brown as it was exposed to the elements, producing an oxidization effect similar to copper, according to the complaint.
“The destruction of the Cheese Wall has caused great distress to Cavallaro,” court papers say. “His artistic vision has been left unfulfilled. Cavallaro has been deprived of the opportunity to communicate his artistic message… a message he has spent years contemplating.”
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.”