MUSEO DELL'OPERA DEL DUOMO/Daily News
MUSEO DELL'OPERA DEL DUOMO/Daily News

9 Other Museum Patrons Who Mangled Works of Art

MUSEO DELL'OPERA DEL DUOMO/Daily News
MUSEO DELL'OPERA DEL DUOMO/Daily News

On a trip to Florence, a 55-year-old from Missouri reportedly broke the finger off a 600-year-old statue at Museo dell'Opera del Duomo. While the thought of a guest clumsily tripping and damaging a piece may make art fans cringe, it's more common than you'd think. Here are a few more tales of museum patrons and art lovers who accidentally harmed precious works of art.

1. Come for the Martinis, Stay for the Monet

Museums occasionally rake in some extra cash by hosting private events, and in 2006 the Milwaukee Art Museum opened its doors for a Clear Channel shindig that must have sounded reasonable at the time: Martinifest, a semiformal event where guests got all the martinis they could drink for a flat $30.

Anyone who's ever been to an open-bar event can see where this one is headed. The crowd apparently had a deeper appreciation for gin and vermouth than for Picasso and Matisse, and things got predictably wild. By the end of the night, gin-soaked patrons had vomited on some of the works and even climbed on Gaston Lachaise's large bronze sculpture, Standing Woman. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel ran this gem of a quote from an eyewitness to the sculpture-scaling: "They were standing on it, grabbing the boobs, and somebody was just taking pictures with a cell phone." [Image courtesy of Lachaise Foundation.]

2. The Kids Love Rothko

Abstract expressionism is apparently the most irresistible kid-friendly force since Elmo, and something about Mark Rothko's Black on Maroon really speaks to young people.

Over the span of just a few months, two different tots got their mitts on the painting at London's Tate Modern. In the first incident, a child grabbed the canvas, which damaged the work by leaving a series of small dents in the piece. Three months later, a two-year-old snuck underneath the barrier that had been set up in front of the painting and left handprints on the work.

3. Careful with that Boom Mic

Bored toddlers aren't the only danger to the Tate's collections, though. Anish Kapoor's 2003 sculpture Ishi's Light sustained damages when a film crew cameraman banged into it with his tripod in 2007. The tripod chipped a hunk out of the fiberglass, resin, and lacquer work.

4. Modern Art? It Makes Me Want to Puke

A few little chips and tears seem trifling compared to the indignity Carl Andre's 1980 sculpture Venus Forge suffered at the Tate in 2007. A child became queasy while visiting the gallery, and vomited on part of the sculpture instead of making a beeline for the bathroom. Several of the work's steel and copper plates had to be removed for some (pretty disgusting) restoration work.

5. Child Pulls Off Frame-Up

French painter Ary Scheffer's 1854 work The Temptation of Christ is still in one piece, but the same can't be said for its antique frame. A curious child broke several pieces off of the frame while the painting was on display at National Museums Liverpool.

6. Bubblicious: The Bane of the Art World

In February 2006, the curatorial staff at the Detroit Institute of Arts made an alarming discovery: someone had slapped a hunk of gum on Helen Frankenthaler's abstract painting The Bay. After some investigation, museum administrators learned that a 12-year-old boy had affixed the chewed gum on the painting during a school visit to the museum. (Something's telling us that the incident ruined future field trips for everyone.) Luckily, the museum found the gum quickly and was able to remove it, even using a magnifying glass to pull remaining bits of gum off of the individual strands of the canvas weave.

7. Mind the Barbed Wire

If you think encasing a museum's collection behind barbed wire might help alleviate some of this unwanted touching, think again; it might just make things worse. Consider Tracey Emin's 2005 work Self Portrait: Bath. One element of the work involves a neon light wrapped in barbed wire, which led to a problem when a visitor to Edinburgh's Gallery of Modern Art got a little too close while viewing the piece. The barbed wire got caught in the visitor's clothing, so when he walked away part of the work dragged along behind him. The museum ended up spending $2,000 to repair the damages.

8. Keep Your Balance

In 2010, New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art finally got to put Picasso's The Actor back up on its gallery walls after a three-month hiatus. That January, a patron lost her balance and fell into the 1904 painting, opening up a six-inch gash in the lower right-hand corner of the canvas. Luckily, art restoration experts were able to repair the canvas in time for the Met's large Picasso exhibit.

9. Watch Your Shoelaces

This one could have been a hilarious pratfall if it hadn't done so much unfunny damage. In 2006, Nick Flynn was visiting the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge when he tripped over his untied shoelaces and took a tumble down the museum's main staircase. Flynn flailed his arms in an attempt to catch his balance, but the stairs didn't have a handrail, just smooth marble walls.

The first thing the 42-year-old Flynn managed to catch in his attempt to right himself was a 300-year-old Chinese vase that was displayed unprotected in a windowsill. Unfortunately, when Flynn hit the vase, it ricocheted into two other vases from the same era of the Qing dynasty. The stumble ended up smashing all three vases—which were worth around £100,000—before Flynn came to a rest.

Pretty embarrassing for Flynn, right? The humiliation didn't stop there. Two months after the incident, he was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and even spent a night in jail after museum officials began to worry that he'd smashed the vases on purpose. In the end, the museum didn't press charges against Flynn, and the restored vases are back on display—in a custom-built case to protect them from any further falls.

Portions of this story originally appeared in 2010.

Art
nextArticle.image_alt|e
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
This Crafty Bicycle Can Knit a Scarf in 5 Minutes
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo
George Barratt-Jones, Vimeo

Knitting can be a time-consuming, meticulous task, but it doesn’t need to be. At least not if you’re George Barratt-Jones. As The Morning News spotted, the Dutch designer recently created a human-powered automated knitting machine that can make a scarf while you wait for your train to arrive.

The Cyclo-Knitter is essentially a bicycle-powered loom. As you pedal a stationary bike, the spinning front wheel powers a knitting machine placed on top of a wooden tower. The freshly knitted fabric descends from the top of the tower as the machine works, lowering your brand-new scarf.

Cyclo Knitter by George Barratt-Jones from George Barratt-Jones on Vimeo.

“Imagine it’s the midst of winter,” Barratt-Jones, who founded an online skill-sharing platform called Kraftz, writes of the product on Imgur. “You are cold and bored waiting for your train at the station. This pedal powered machine gets you warm by moving, you are making something while you wait, and in the end, you are left with a free scarf!”

Seems like a pretty good use of your commute down-time, right?

If you're a fan of more traditional knitting methods, check out these knitting projects that can put your needles to work, no bicycle required.

[h/t The Morning News]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
6 Works of Art That Were Hiding in Plain Sight
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
An ancient angel mosaic on a wall of the Church of the Nativity
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

Earlier this year, an 1820 facsimile of the Declaration of Independence turned up in Texas. Despite once being owned by James Madison, it had been shuffled among the papers of a family who eventually forgot about its provenance and came to consider it "worthless," at least until its recent authentication. As one of only 200 facsimiles created by printer William Stone, it was a rare document, but what made headlines was a curious footnote in the document’s journey: It had been hidden behind wallpaper during the Civil War as protection.

There’s something tantalizing about a precious object concealed by wallpaper or painted over; it suggests treasures might be hiding anywhere—maybe in our own homes. Here are a few stories of art that's been lost, and found, on the same wall, hidden beneath wallpaper, paint, and plaster.

1. ANGEL MOSAIC // PALESTINE

Conservators who began restoring the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem in 2013 after centuries of neglect were prepared to clean its mosaics from years of soot and grime. They weren’t expecting to find new ones.

Using a thermographic camera, one restoration worker noticed a shape in the plaster walls. When the team started chipping off the material, they found the brilliant glow of mother-of-pearl tiles. Soon an 8-foot-tall angel was revealed, dressed in a flowing white robe, its golden wings and halo as luminescent as when they were installed in the Crusades era. It’s believed that the angel was covered up following an 1830s earthquake, perhaps to hide damage. Now the lost seraph (above) has rejoined the procession of radiant mosaic angels who are walking to the nativity along the church’s historic walls.

2. MEDIEVAL MURALS // WALES

Mediaeval wall paintings, Llancarfan church, Wales
Chris Samuel, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

During the Reformation, the murals in Catholic churches of the British Isles were often covered with plaster, turning them into more austere Protestant spaces. In covering them so entirely, this art was sometimes inadvertently protected from centuries of decay. In 2010, conservators announced an incredible find in the 800-year-old Church of St Cadoc at Llancarfan in Wales.

Church staff had long been intrigued by a thin red line of paint on the wall. After conservators began the painstaking work of removing 21 layers of limewash, a dramatic painting of St. George slaying a dragon appeared. The discoveries continued with scenes of other popular medieval motifs, such as the Seven Deadly Sins, a royal family, and "Death and the Gallant," in which a rotting corpse with a worm creeping in its rib cage leads an elegantly dressed man to his mortal end. The murals are now on view for all to enjoy.

3. BRETON GIRL SPINNING // FRANCE

Paul Gauguin, "Breton Girl Spinning"
Paul Gauguin, Wikimedia // Public Domain

Now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, French artist Paul Gauguin's 1889 Breton Girl Spinning is an enigmatic fresco of a young girl dancing at a small tree. In one hand, she is spinning wool; in the distance, above the water and shapes of ships, a huge angel with a sword is flying. In part because of this angelic figure, the painting is sometimes called Joan of Arc.

The work was painted right on the plaster dining room wall of La Buvette de la Plage, an inn in Brittany, France. After being forgotten under layers of wallpaper, it and two other murals (one by Gauguin and one by his student Meijer de Haan) were rediscovered in 1924 during some redecorating.

4. MAYA MURALS // GUATEMALA

While updating their kitchen around 2007, Lucas Asicona Ramirez and his family in the Guatemalan village of Chajul discovered some old interior design—Maya murals, hidden for centuries beneath the plaster.

The roughly 300-year-old artworks in the colonial-era home featured figures in both Maya and Spanish attire, representing a moment of European arrival. One may be holding a human heart, or possibly a mask used in a dance. Ramirez hopes to turn the room into a museum, but needs more funding. Other households in Chajul also have historic murals in their homes, and some are striving to conserve these memories of their ancestors even while local preservation resources are limited.

5. WILLIAM MORRIS RED HOUSE MURALS // ENGLAND

The 19th century British artist and writer William Morris is celebrated for his textiles, writing, wallpaper, and other work in the Arts and Crafts movement. The house in Bexleyheath, Kent, that architect Philip Webb designed for him and his wife Jane in 1859 was intended not just as a home, but an incubator for art. The "Red House" became a hub for like-minded artists, and Morris founded “The Firm”—which produced decorative objects such as stained glass and furniture—there in 1861 alongside several other artists. However, the Red House community was short-lived, and financial difficulties forced the family to move out in 1865, never to return.

When the National Trust acquired the house in 2003, they found that the group had left behind some of their artistic experiments. Behind a wardrobe, under layers of paint and wallpaper, the trust made a most extraordinary find: a full wall of almost life-size biblical figures. Researchers believe they were collaboratively painted by Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, his wife Elizabeth Siddal, and Ford Madox Brown, all of whom were major artists in the Pre-Raphaelite movement.

6. AMÉRICA TROPICAL // UNITED STATES

Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros had just been expelled from Mexico for his leftist activities when he arrived in Los Angeles in 1932. Local boosters commissioned him to create a mural on the theme of "Tropical America" on the touristy Olvera Street, which was an idealized vision of a Mexican market, but he had no interest in portraying some folkloric fantasy. “For me, 'America Tropical' was a land of natives, of Indians, Creoles, of African-American men, all of them invariably persecuted and harassed by their respective governments,” he said in a 1971 documentary.

His América Tropical: Oprimida y Destrozada por los Imperialismos, or Tropical America: Oppressed and Destroyed by Imperialism, was a moody landscape with gnarled trees clawing at a Maya temple. At the center, an indigenous man is crucified, with an American eagle ominously descending over his head. Innovative techniques such as airbrushing gave the tableau a visceral edge.

The 18-by-82-foot act of subversion was soon whitewashed. Still, many people did not forget it, especially as Siqueiros became recognized as one of the most influential of the early 1900s Mexican muralists. Eight decades after it was painted, the city of Los Angeles, along with the Getty Conservation Institute, began a restoration. The whitewash had protected its details from sun and rain and finally, in 2012, its defiant scene was again revealed to the public. It is now the oldest mural in L.A., and the only one by Siqueiros in its original location.

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