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9 Really Dangerous Pieces of Art

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Normally when artwork is described as “dangerous,” it means it challenges the viewer to think and feel outside their comfort zone. But here are nine pieces of art that were not only emotionally dangerous, but physically as well.

1. The Umbrellas

Starting in the 1960s, married environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude traveled the world, creating artwork that took over and redefined landscapes like the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, a bridge in Paris, and New York City's Central Park. One of their most ambitious projects was The Umbrellas, a simultaneous installation of 3,100 19-foot tall, metal and fabric umbrellas setup across California and Japan in the fall of 1991. The artwork was a huge tourist attraction, with an estimated 3 million visitors during its brief stay.

However, Christo and Jeanne-Claude ended the exhibit earlier than planned after the tragic death of Lori Keevil-Matthews, a 33-year old woman in California, who was crushed when a strong wind blew over one of the nearly-500-pound umbrellas. Tragedy struck again during the dismantling process when Masaaki Nakamura, a 51-year old man in Japan, was electrocuted after the arm of the crane he was operating hit an overhead power line.

2. Dreamspace V

Created in 1996 by artist Maurice Algis, Dreamspace V was an 8,200-square foot inflatable network of translucent, polyurethane cells, large enough for people to walk through and explore. The interactive artwork toured the world for ten trouble-free years, receiving thousands of visitors, until an unfortunate accident on July 23, 2006.

During an outdoor festival at Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street, England, a strong gust of wind from an approaching thunderstorm lifted the structure, snapping ropes that were meant to keep it tethered to the ground. One cell phone video and multiple closed-circuit cameras at the site recorded Dreamspace V as it was briefly tossed around like a rag doll before coming to rest against one camera’s pole, which many believe was the only reason it stopped. There were 30 people inside the sculpture at the time, resulting in a dozen injuries, including a 3-year old girl who had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital (thankfully, she survived). Sadly, there were also two fatalities - Claire Furmedge (38) and Elizabeth Collings (68). After a lengthy court battle, Agis was acquitted of manslaughter charges, though he did have to pay a £10,000 fine for violating safety regulations. Here's a grainy CBS News video of the accident.

3 & 4. Sculpture No. 3 and Reading Cones

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When you're an artist whose primary medium is solid steel weighing thousands of pounds, installing your artwork is not an easy task. Such is the case for sculptor Richard Serra, whose giant, metal masterpieces can be seen all over the world, including New York, Paris, and as the only permanent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (at 180 tons, who'd want to move it?). To put his designs in place, professional steelworkers are employed to ensure everything is done safely; however, accidents do happen.

On November 18, 1975, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, workers were installing Serra's Sculpture No. 3, consisting of two 8-foot square steel plates weighing over 5,000 pounds each. During the construction, one of the support braces holding the plates broke, causing the sheet metal to fall on contractor Raymond Johnson. Johnson's widow sued the artist and the company installing the piece, but both were exonerated of any negligence. However, she did receive a judgment of over $500,000 from the steel fabricator that actually created the sculpture pieces, when it was determined they took a shortcut making the support brace that snapped.

Another Serra piece, Reading Cones, fell on two workers in a New York gallery after heavy-duty jacks malfunctioned during the process of dismantling the sculpture in 1988. The piece, consisting of two slightly curved, 32,000-pound plates, pinned both men to the floor, crushing one man's leg below the knee. When the plate fell, it also broke two of the building's nine support beams, forcing the evacuation of everyone inside until repairs could be made to the now-sagging second floor.

5. Blue Mustang

If you've flown into Denver's International Airport in the last few years, you undoubtedly noticed the giant, blue horse with glowing red eyes outside the main terminal. Blue Mustang is a 32-foot tall, 9,000-pound fiberglass sculpture made by renowned artist Luis Jimenez. First commissioned in 1992, the piece was delayed for years due to a necessary redesign of the internal support structures, as well as issues with the artist's health. Then, on June 13, 2006, after finally completing the second of three sections of the statue, a chain broke on the crane used to hoist the piece to another part of the studio for safekeeping. The section fell, pinning Jimenez underneath, and severing his femoral artery. The statue was finished under the supervision of his family and finally installed at the airport in February 2008. Almost as soon as it was unveiled at the airport, many Denverites began lobbying for the statue’s removal. These detractors say they’re disturbed by the demonic steed. Some also believe it could be cursed thanks to its role in Jimenez’s death.

* * *
England's cutting-edge art museum, The Tate Modern, is the most popular modern art gallery in the world, with 4.7 million people passing through the repurposed abandoned power plant every year. Of those millions, a surprisingly high number are injured by the experimental, interactive art pieces, costing the gallery nearly £27,000 in medical claims since 2000. Here are some notable examples.
* * *

6. Bodyspacemotionthings

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Artist Richard Morris’ Bodyspacemotionthings, the Tate Gallery's first interactive art experience, unveiled in 1971, allowed visitors to play on stand-up see-saws, swing on ropes, and roll around in giant, concrete tubes. It was a huge hit, welcoming 2,500 people in its first four days. However, those were also the last four days.

The installation was shut down when, as one guard put it, “they went bloody mad.” Not only were there numerous minor injuries, like splinters from wooden slides and bruised behinds after falling off rolling logs, but the crowd was so rambunctious that they left the exhibit in shambles. But none of this stopped the museum from reviving the event in 2009, using modern design and construction materials that were meant to be safer and more resilient. Still, 23 people were hurt in the new installation's first week, citing everything from rope burns, cut and bruises, and head injuries.

7. Test Site

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Remember going down the slide at recess when you were a kid? It was pretty exciting, huh? Now imagine the slide is 180-feet long and five stories high. That was the concept of Test Site by artist Carston Höller, who installed five slides of varying lengths inside the massive Turbine Gallery at the Tate. During their display, from October 2006 until April 2007, well over 500,000 people took a ride in the stainless steel tubes, howling with glee all the way down. Well, most of them were howling with glee anyway. Five people walked away with fairly severe injuries, including one woman who broke multiple bones in her hand, making it impossible for her to work for nearly three months. She ended up suing the museum and received £3500 compensation for her troubles.

8. Shibboleth 2007

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Visitors to the Tate between October 2007 and April 2008 witnessed an exhibit called Shibboleth 2007, a 548-foot long crack in the concrete floor of the gallery. The crack was meant to symbolize the cultural and racial divide between people and, when the exhibit was over, filled-in to show an emotional and physical scar left behind. After the exhibit ran its course, the Tate was scarred, but so were the 15 people that tripped on the crack during its tenure. Most were not serious injuries – mostly minor ankle and knee sprains - though four claims were severe enough to receive monetary compensation from the museum.

9. Sunflower Seeds

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Over 100 million handmade, porcelain seeds covered the floor of the Tate's Turbine Hall in October 2010 as an exhibit called Sunflower Seeds by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai's intention was for people to physically interact with the seeds by walking over them, picking them up, and sitting on them, while contemplating everything from mass consumption to famine. In the first day, 14,000 visitors came through the exhibit; however, it was because of the show’s popularity that it was closed after only two days. The museum became concerned that the crowds were kicking up too much porcelain dust, which could be harmful if inhaled. Experts said visitors would have to be exposed to the dust for many hours to have even the slightest harmful side-effect, but with all the other health claims the museum has received, they weren't taking any chances. The installation remained in place and could be viewed from afar, but the days of playing in a sea of seeds was over.

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10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
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Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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