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‘Cheese Wall’ Destroyed by Border Wall Contractor, Artist Says

Nov. 5, 2020, 8:04 PM

Artist Cosimo Cavallaro sued construction company SLSCO Ltd. in San Diego federal court for the alleged destruction of his “Cheese Wall” sculpture near the U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Cavallaro says in his complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California Wednesday that he was wrongfully “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.”

The complaint says Cavallaro’s works often involve sculptures made from perishable materials—including melted cheese, ham, chocolate, and ketchup—and that they comment on concepts such as “the absurdity of effort, waste and decay.”

He leased private property near the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego County to build the wall using dried bricks of Cotija cheese. The wall, which was still under construction, was six feet tall at its highest point, stretched 70 feet, and included over 400 Cotija bricks. Cavallaro says he planned for the Cheese Wall to stretch 1,000 feet.

The complaint says the work was written about in art publications and also garnered attention from news outlets like BBC News and the Los Angeles Times, as well as television programs including the Late Late Show with James Corden.

According to the complaint, a contractor for SLSCO, which was hired by the U.S. government to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border wall, used its construction vehicles to destroy the Cheese Wall.

The complaint says an employee for Ultimate Concrete, the SLSCO contractor, who donated to a fundraising campaign for the Cheese Wall called Cavallaro and asked if he wanted it removed. Cavallaro declined, but he says his wall was “entirely destroyed” when he returned to the site the next month, with tire tracks from heavy machinery around it.

Cavallaro also says metal slats for the border wall were left on the site even though it was “private property that neither SLSCO, Ultimate Concrete, nor the government had permission to access.”

The artist says SLSCO and Ultimate Concrete’s alleged destruction of his work violated the Visual Artists Rights Act.

Causes of Action: Visual Artists Rights Act, conversion, nuisance, trespass.

Relief: Damages, attorneys’ fees and costs.

Response: SLSCO didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Attorneys: Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP represents Cavallaro.

The case is Cavallaro v. SLSCO Ltd., S.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-02157, complaint filed 11/4/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Blake Brittain in Washington at bbrittain@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Steven Patrick at spatrick@bloomberglaw.com

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