CLOSE
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.

arrow
Art
5 Things You Might Not Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—who was born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs. But there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams's mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Dan Bell
arrow
Design
A Cartographer Is Mapping All of the UK’s National Parks, J.R.R. Tolkien-Style
Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park
Dan Bell

Cartographer Dan Bell makes national parks into fantasy lands. Bell, who lives near Lake District National Park in England, is currently on a mission to draw every national park in the UK in the style of the maps in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, Kottke.org reports.

The project began in September 2017, when Bell posted his own hand-drawn version of a Middle Earth map online. He received such a positive response that he decided to apply the fantasy style to real world locations. He has completed 11 out of the UK’s 15 parks so far. Once he finishes, he hopes to tackle the U.S. National Park system, too. (He already has Yellowstone National Park down.)

Bell has done various other maps in the same style, including ones for London and Game of Thrones’s Westeros, and he commissions, in case you have your own special locale that could use the Tolkien treatment. Check out a few of his park maps below.

A close-up of a map for Peak District National Park
Peak District National Park in central England
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Cairngorms National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Cairngorms National Park in Scotland
Dan Bell

A black-and-white illustration of Lake District National Park in the style of a 'Lord of the Rings' map.
Lake District National Park in England
Dan Bell

You can buy prints of the maps here.

[h/t Kottke.org]

All images by Dan Bell

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios