Ask a bunch of college students about a piece of contemporary artwork and they will end up giving ‘open to interpretation' an entirely different dimension.

“It looks like they have given a welder some work,” K.Deepak, a third-year student from the Institute of Leather Technology, Rajiv Gandhi Salai, observes in jest. His classmate, C. Devanathan, would have preferred if the artist along with his name had left his cell phone number so the boys can find out what the work really means.

The ‘art walk' project which started off with much fanfare with 14 pieces, mostly contemporary art, installed along Rajiv Gandhi Salai to make it both aesthetically pleasing and easily accessible to the public, is now in a miserable condition.

Added to this are pieces of work which have gone missing. “On the planter strip outside Tidel Park, I had installed four fibreglass sculptures of girls flying kites,” says freelance artist, P.Elanchezhiyan who was part of the project.

“Then one by one, they went missing. It has been a year since I have seen them. The concrete bases must have been cut out,” he says.

Another artist, Ravindran, is also looking for his work. “There was a sculpture of three kites but they seem to have disappeared,” he says very matter-of-factly.

Originally, the idea was quite unique. “We thought that art was only being represented in galleries and the common person doesn't have easy access to the local contemporary art scene,” says an architect who was involved with the project.

“But the last time I was in Chennai, I noticed the artwork was not in good shape. Maybe the focus shifted to completing laying the road and no funds were allocated for maintenance of the artwork,” she adds. Freelance painter Shailesh B.O. agrees that the original intentions were good but says many artists are upset that their work has not been maintained properly. His installation dedicated to the victims of the 2004 tsunami does not have the fibreglass boat it had. “The boat was around two and a half feet from the wall. Many kids used to hang on to it and play. TNRDC told me that it would be maintained well,” he says.

Other artists have decided to take the initiative and protect their work. “Twice, I went personally to remove posters that were stuck on my installation,” says an artist who registered his displeasure with the way contemporary artwork has been disrespected.

Art critic Sadanand Menon says, “The value of art usually appreciates over time but in the case of artwork on Rajiv Gandhi Salai, it is only depreciating because of poor maintenance. The premise of public art is that the area will be protected compared to other areas especially because of the amount of money that has gone into it.” While many point fingers at the Tamil Nadu Road Development Company (TNRDC) for not maintaining the stretch, officials there prefer to blame the public. “The public is not cooperating. We thought the institutions on whose walls these works are exhibited will take care of it but we can't compel them to do so,” says an official.

Consultant Ashvin Rajagopalan, who was involved with commissioning the artists for this project, says: “Social responsibility towards artwork is disappointing,” he says. Some pedestrians who frequent the stretch say they did not pay much attention to the installations. M.Siva, a lemon-juice seller, says: “All this is just for design. I don't know who did it or what it is.”