Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Art Destruction

After Picasso's 1905 painting "The Actor" was torn at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Friday when a woman tripped and fell into it, the Times has been compiling similar stories of art abuse.

Fine art insurance underwriter Robert Read told the Guardian in 2008, "The kind of incident where people fall across a cordon in a gallery is very unusual. Far more common is works being wrongly packed, dropped, or left on the tarmac when a plane gets diverted. If you left a painting out on the runway in Mumbai during monsoon season, for instance, you would have a problem."

All of this brings to mind the infamous incident at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in about 2000 when a weary man sat down on a $600,000 Ming Dynasty chair on display, apparently ignoring signs warning visitors not to touch the exhibits. He broke it. The rumor I heard at the time was that the man cried when he realized what he had done. As far as I know, he didn't get into any sort of trouble with the museum, and the chair was fixed.

Or another story about the British artist Damien Hirst, whose 2001 installation at London's Eyestorm Gallery was mistaken for trash from the show's opening and thrown away by the night janitor. Hirst apparently laughed it off -- the piece, valued at six figures, consisted of "half-full coffee cups, ashtrays with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, a paint-smeared palette, an easel, a ladder, paintbrushes, candy wrappers and newspaper pages strewn about the floor." It was easy to recreate.

Here is a list of art accidents from the Times and other sources:
  1. 2006: Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino baron , put his elbow through a Picasso that he was about to sell for $100 million more than he paid for it--all in front of a small audience of friends that included Nora Ephron and Barbara Walters.

  2. 2004: A clear plastic trash bag filled with paper and cardboard is tossed from the Tate Britain by a cleaning crew. It was part of German artist Gustav Metzger's "Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art," a new version of a piece he did in 1960.

  3. 1980s: A Joseph Beuys piece consisting of a dirty bathtub is scoured clean by janitors.

  4. Artist Tracy Emin, in a string of bad luck, has two paintings in an Edinburgh gallery accidentally damaged by visitors in separate incidents, and then has another piece damaged by the staff of the National Galleries of Scotland.

  5. 2006: A 42-year-old man trips down some stairs at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England and crashes into three Qing Dynasty (17th century) vases worth about $800,000.
  6. The vases were reportedly repaired.

  7. 2000: Sotheby's, the auction house, puts a Lucian Freud drawing still in its packing box through a large shredder, thinking the box was empty. The drawing was worth $157,000.

  8. Rembrandt's huge 1642 painting "Night Watch" has been attacked at least three times since 1900. In 1975, a mentally ill man cut zig-zags in the painting. In 1990, another crazy person threw acid on it.

  9. 2001: A glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly valued at about $50,000 is broken during preparation for an evening event at the Victoria & Albert in London.

  10. Recently, an unnamed Upper East Side couple loses four Impressionist works when a housekeeper throws away packing crates (which turned out not to be empty) from a seasonal move from their Hamptons home.

  11. A Giorgio de Chirico painting called “Piazza d’Italia,” hanging in an apartment in the Netherlands, has a hole punched through it when a demolition on a neighboring building gets out of hand.



Anonymous Sarah said...

It's interesting that many of these incidents are the result of janitors/cleaning crews seeing what was actually there--a bunch of garbage--instead of what the artist wanted them to see. If we could get artists to apply this standard to their work ("Would the average person throw this away?"), it would prevent a lot of nonsense.

7:37 AM  

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