Top Examples of Destroyed Art - Human Recklessness and Accidents
When properly taken care of, works of art can persist through millenniums that tell the stories of the times passed to future generations. To preserve cultural heritage from getting destroyed, art galleries and museums have installed a set of rules designed to protect the artworks from thieves, vandals, and accidents. Artworks are often protected by safety ropes that keep the visitors at a reasonable distance. Some pieces are placed inside bulletproof glass boxes.
But, since art venues are trying to keep the sense of accessibility, many works are showcased without these protective items. Instead, they are guarded by a series of guidelines that the visitors must obey. For instance, viewers are often asked to leave their belongings (such as briefcases and umbrellas) at the front desk. Since children are prone to accidents of all kinds, museums demand that they must be accompanied by adults. Food and drinks are not allowed and touching the pieces is strictly forbidden.
There’s a reason why museums and galleries ask people not to touch works on display. Human skin carries natural oils and acids that are harmful to artworks. A single touch can initiate permanent changes, darken the paint or corrode metal. But despite these rules, accidents happen and artworks get shattered, punched through or completely destroyed.
In this article, we’ve selected a short list of cases in which human recklessness resulted in destroyed art.
Seven Magic Mountains Tagged
The Seven Magic Mountains installation by Ugo Rondinone is only the first in the long line of artworks that have been destroyed by human beings.
This art installation located in the desert of Las Vegas was tagged by vandals on June 5th, 2016. Perpetrators spray-painted a series of numbers and letters on the colorful large-scale public artwork.
The art piece that represents the largest land art installation in 40 years will be recuperated in a few days but the incident once again proved the the dangers of placing an artwork in public spaces.
Featured image: Seven Magic Mountains by Ugo Rondinone vandalized via news3lv.com.
Lego Art Piece vs a Five-Year-Old
MR. Zhao spent three days and nights carefully arranging $15,000 worth of Legos to create a truly impressive sculpture of Nick, a Disney character from the popular animated film Zootopia.
And as you probably read by now, it took only a few seconds for a five-year-old child to destroy it. The gigantic, yet fragile piece was on display for only about an hour and a half when a child pushed it over.
The artwork was therefore turned back into its original form of thousands and thousands unattached Lego cubes. Though he was heartbroken to see his art destroyed, MR. Zhao declined financial compensation from the child’s parents since the whole mishap was purely accidental.
Featured image : Disney character Before and After the Accident via MR. Zhao’s Weibo account
Breaking Clocks and Museum Policy
There’s nothing unusual about children destroying objects (that’s kind of what they do) but adults know better than to mess with artworks in museums, right?
Wrong! One man who visited National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, Pennsylvania, didn’t settle for just taking photos of a wooden clock by James Borden. Instead, he tried to set it in motion by moving the weights on the clock, before accidentally knocking it off the wall. The video showing the mishap went viral after the museum decided to publish it on their Instagram and YouTube pages as a reminder of their no-touching policy.
“This is why we beg and plead with our visitors to please refrain from touching objects in museums”, YouTube video description stated. To their defense, the visitor and his companion did try to fix the clock before leaving, but it turned out that restoring a delicate mechanism is not as easy as breaking it. This event occurred on May 31st, 2016.
National Watch and Clock Museum Surveillance Video
Featured image: Surveillance Video Screenshot via youtube.com
17th-Century Painting Meets One Clumsy Kid
In 2015, one image of destroyed art traveled the globe. A twelve-year-old pupil was walking next to the 17th-century painting Flowers on view at Huashan 1914 creative arts center when he slipped. In an attempt to stay on his feet, the kid punched his hand into a wall that happened to have a $1.5 million painting on it.
The accident resulted in a fist-sized hole in Paolo Porpora’s artwork and one very awkward young man. Luckily, the painting was insured and the boy’s family wasn’t forced to pay the costs of restoration. The twelve-year-old got a lot of sympathies from the public since this truly was the kind of accident that could have happened to anyone.
A Video of a Kid Destroying 17th century Painting
Featured image: Youtube screenshot
Untied Shoelaces - A Recipe for a Disaster
Three vases from Qing dynasty have survived 300 years of natural disasters, wars, and other forces of destruction, but untied shoelaces of a museum visitor almost finished them off.
For several decades, valuable vases were safely on display at Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge before a 42-year-old Nick Flynn tripped over his shoelaces and fell down the stairs right into them. He later claimed that he tried to hold on to something, but since the stairs are made from pure marble he simply couldn’t. Nick Flynn was even questioned by the police for causing criminal damage but the charges were never filed.
The group of skillful conservators managed to restore the vases that are now back on display at Fitzwilliam museum, but this time, they are protected by a bulletproof glass.
Featured image: Nick Flynn after falling into Chinese vases via telegraph.co.uk; Quing dynasty vases via mic.com
Art Destroyed by Badly Behaved Children
An incident that happened in Shanghai Museum of Glass, just one day after International museum day 2016, angered art lovers all over the world.
Despite being closely monitored by two adults, the children snuck behind a rope barrier and approached a glass artwork entitled Angel Is Waiting. Then they pulled and tugged the artwork until it broke. And what were their parents doing during the incident? Filmed the whole thing with their phone cameras.
Though the occurrence represents a fine example of human negligence and inconsideration, both the sculptor Shelly Xue and the museum decided not to press charges against the parents. Instead, the Shelly Xue renamed his piece to Broken and positioned the surveillance video next to the artwork. The video is now playing in loops and represents a warning to other visitors.
Video of Children destroying Angel Is Waiting
Featured image : Children destroying Angel Is Waiting, via youtube.com
Tripping and Falling - Into Andy Warhol's Triple Elvis
The expanded venue of SFMoMA has recently been the home of a very successful art prank but it also had a little art accident of its own.
The exhibition that contained hundreds of valuable 20th-century artworks from Doris and Donald Fisher Collection was going well until one visitor tripped and fell into an acclaimed Andy Warhol‘s piece entitled Triple Elvis.
The artwork portraying Elvis Presley from his acting days is valued at $82 million, but fortunately for the clumsy visitor and the artwork’s owners, it was only slightly damaged and was soon restored.
Featured image: Andy Warhol – Triple Elvis, 1963 via sfmoma.org
A Lucian Freud Painting that's Lost Forever
In 2010, a painting by Lucian Freud was taken to Sotheby’s where it was supposed to be sold at an auction. The artwork arrived at the auction house in a wooden traveling package that was allegedly placed on the wrong side of the storing room, next to the empty crates.
Two porters there naturally assumed that the crate was empty as well and assigned the painting to a crusher. After being crushed, the painting and the case eventually ended up in trash or an incinerator.
The unnamed small scale 1960s artwork was valued by Sotheby’s at $100,000 but many believe that painting would have reached a much higher price if it had made it to the July sale.
Featured image : Sotheby’s in London via Wikimedia commons
Steve Wynn Destroys Picasso - Twice
In 2006, art collector and casino owner Steve Wynn arranged a $139 million sale of Pablo Picasso’s celebrated portrait The Dream, but just days before the money and the artwork were scheduled to exchange hands, the deal was abruptly stopped. The reason – a two-inch tear that went right trough the canvas. One evening Steve Wynn was entertaining a group of friends when his poor vision caused him to accidentally push his elbow through the painting causing the canvas to rip. The tear was eventually repaired and The Dream was sold for $155 million at an auction in 2013.
In 2018, Steve Wynn had another mishap with another Picasso. He was planning on selling the 1943 self-portrait Le Marin (The Sailor) at Christie’s May 15 auction, but the work was “accidentally damages”, according to Christie’s statement. It will be restored, but not sold at this time. The piece was estimated at $70 million. Another Picasso painting owned by Wynn, the 1964 portrait Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil was also pulled from the auction in accordance with the seller. That one was estimated at $25-35 million.
It should be noted that Wynn suffers from a disease that affects his peripheral vision.
Featured Image: Pablo Picasso – The Dream, 1932, Le Marin, 1943, via Christie’s. All images used for illustrative purposes only.
Pumpkin Poppin' - Breaking a Kusama
It was February 2017 when the Hirshhorn Museum hosted Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors and, as it often happens in museums of art, some tried to take a selfie. It happened in the artist’s newest mirror room, titled Infinity Mirrored Room – All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins when a visitor fell into one of the pumpkin sculptures and broke one of them.
The room was temporarily closed and the work was replaced, but it seems that the rules to keep one visitor at the time for merely 30 seconds within these rooms is still not a restriction enough.
Featured image: Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrored Room Titled ‘All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins’ at The Hirshhorn Museum (DC) 2017, by Ron Cogswell via Flickr
Cleaners Be Cleaning - When Art is Just Rubbish
Can we really blame them? Cleaners at museums and galleries are there to do their job, and if an artwork looks like garbage – well, that’s simply not their fault.
Perhaps it all started in 1986, when a “grease” stain by Joseph Beuys, valued at €400,000, was mopped away by a cleaner at the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf.
The next example could be the case at London’s Eyestorm Gallery in 2001, when Damien Hirst’s piles of full ashtrays, half-filled coffee cups, newspapers and empty beer bottles were thrown away. It had been an impromptu installation created by Hirst on the occasion of his exhibition at the gallery. Some pieces of the work were retrieved by the staff, and the artist commented on the incident saying it was ”fantastic. Very funny.”
That same year, a piece of modern art worth some $935,000 created by Martin Kippenberger, was ruined at the Ostwall Museum in Dortmund. Wenn’s anfängt durch die Decke zu tropfen had a rubber bucket underneath its construction, which was covered in paint representing dried rain water. The cleaner cleaned the trough, making it look good as new.
In Italy in 2011, an installation which contained cigarette buds, empty bottles, confetti, discarded shoes and clothing, among other things, was cleared out from the Museion museum in Bolzano. The incident occurred following an event at the venue, so naturally, they thought this was a part of the mess that the visitors left behind.
Museum Art Installation Gets Thrown Away By Cleaners
Damaged Art Doesn’t Have to Be Damaged
Art pieces get chipped, damaged or destroyed by humans almost every day and institutions claim that, despite popular belief, adults often cause more devastation than their young successors. And though certain accidents simply can’t be prevented, others can be easily avoided if people just followed the rules and restrained themselves from touching, moving, or “fixing” artworks on display.
Just because something is a work of art it doesn’t make it immune to hazards and destruction. Just one slip and it could be gone forever. Remember that, the next time you walk into a museum.
Featured images: Museum Art Installation Gets Thrown Away By Cleaners, YouTube screenshot; Martin Kippenberger – ‘Wenn’s anfängt durch die Decke zu tropfen’, via artwasted.com. All images used for illustrative purposes only.