SALT LAKE CITY — A monolith standing undisturbed in a desert in Utah for perhaps years drew a lot of attention — and damage to the land — from the public before it was removed.
A group of friends took responsibility for removing the sculpture, and a Utah lawyer says that removing it was probably a good move.
Monolith removed just days after discovery
The monolith was first spotted on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property in Utah’s San Juan County on Nov. 18.
Utah resident Sylvan Christensen posted a video on TikTok and Instagram claiming he and his friends hauled the metal structure away Friday. On his Instagram page, he added: “Don’t abandon your personal property on public land if you don’t want it to be taken out.”
Christensen said people coming to see the monolith were damaging the land and defecating in the desert since there are no restrooms.
But if the monolith is private property of public lands, can it be legally removed by citizens?
A legal perspective
Longtime Utah attorney Greg Skordas joined Dave Noriega and Debbie Dujanovic to discuss the legal ramifications.
Debbie asked whether the monolith isn’t really abandoned property, since according to satellite imagery, it has been standing in the desert for five years.
“This is not art,” Skordas said. “You can’t just go to a national park or BLM land and create art and expect it to be part of the landscape, you can’t deface things, you can’t draw graffiti. . . Whoever put that there probably committed the crime, although that was five years ago as Debbie said. Removing it was probably a good thing because of all the attention it was getting and all the pollution it was creating by people coming to visit the site.”
Dave asked what if Christensen and his friends sell the monolith on eBay for $1 million.
“Good for them,” said Skordas.
“What about the artist?” asked Dave.
“You still call this thing art, Dave. I love you,” he replied. ” . . . It didn’t belong on BLM land. It didn’t belong in a place where the public can go and enjoy the scenery and the beauty of it. And it shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Maybe the original artist can complain and say I want my monolith back, but that person is the one who created the problem in the first place.”
What is art?
Skordas said a person can’t legally remove petrified wood or an American Indian artifact from BLM land, but that person can remove garbage from public lands.
“I think you’re making the world better than when you entered it — I don’t see a crime, I don’t see a problem with that,” he said. “In fact, I think it’s a public service.”
Just because the person who created the monolith left it on BLM land doesn’t make it someone else’s, Dave pointed out.
“That’s a good point but where do you draw the line?” Skordas asked.
Monolith removed “a good thing”
What’s to stop one person from placing what he or she calls art on public lands and then someone else from placing something on public land that is viewed as offensive, he said. What gets to stay and what has to go?
“That’s why we can’t go and put something on BLM land that doesn’t belong there, that wasn’t part of the natural landscape,” Skordas said.
“Overall it was probably a good thing” that the monolith was removed from public lands to protect the environment from public destruction, he said, and that’s why Christensen and his friend probably won’t be prosecuted for removing it.
“It wasn’t causing any problems, but once it did, the smart thing was to remove it,” he said.
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Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, a.s well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.
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