5 Tips to Prevent Art-Related Embarrassment While Traveling This Summer

If drunk, please, stay away from the Indian petroglyphs in the Sequoia National Forest.

Duane Hanson Tourists (1970). Photo: © Estate of Duane Hanson/VAGA, New York/DACS, London 2015, courtesy National Galleries Scotland.

While most visitors are respectful of the local customs and cultures when traveling, others need to be reminded that especially mindful when visiting museums, cultural sites, or galleries at home or abroad.

Countless examples of idiotic behavior from tourists illustrate that despite numerous warnings and the all-important globally understood “look but don’t touch” rule, some travelers just don’t seem to get the message.

Related: Artwork Damaged at Pérez Art Museum During Art Basel Opening

Many people don’t realize that falling foul of local cultural rules can have serious consequences which—depending on the country—can range from significant fines to imprisonment. To illustrate this point we’ve compiled a short selection of tourist art mishaps that have resulted in unforeseen repercussions for the perpetrators.

The Empúries ruins in Catalonia, Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Empúries ruins in Catalonia, Spain. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

1. Abstain from looting.
In August last year, a French couple was arrested by Spanish police for attempting to take a number of artifacts dug from the Empúries archaeological site of Greek and Roman ruins in Catalonia. The tourists were caught in a car which contained picks, and other digging tools. The French nationals were charged under Spanish law with running afoul of historical heritage laws.

Spanish Civil Guards bring Pablo Picasso's Head of a Young Woman to the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien, AFP Photo.

Spanish Civil Guards bring Pablo Picasso’s Head of a Young Woman to the Reina Sofia museum in Madrid. Photo: Gerard Julien, AFP Photo.

2. Don’t take artwork with you—illegally.
If a court has ordered you not to export your $27 million Picasso painting it’s probably not a great idea to take it on holiday with you to Corsica. That’s exactly what Spanish banker Jaime Botín did in August 2015, and it ultimately lead to the seizure of the painting. Corsican officials were tipped off that the financier was allegedly trying to smuggle the artwork to Switzerland and raided the yacht. The painting was eventually handed over to the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid.

Native American rock art is protected by the Antiquities Act. Photo: artnet.

Native American rock art is protected by the Antiquities Act. Photo: artnet News.

3. Stay (relatively) sober.
Whilst it may be tempting to indulge in a little bit of vino when holidaying abroad, make sure to remain relatively sober when touring historic sites. If you don’t, you may end up facing 10 years in prison, like a man who got drunk and spray-painted a vulgar message about a co-worker over an ancient Indian petroglyph in Sequoia National Forest in California.

The golden "Madonnina" on top of the Milan Duomo spire. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The gold “Madonnina” on top of the Milan Duomo spire. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

4. Leave your drone at home.
Yes, it takes astonishing selfies from an aerial perspective, but is it worth almost destroying a priceless statue atop a 14th century Italian cathedral? Three Korean tourists were trying taking aerial shots of the city and themselves when the unmanned aircraft hit a construction cable, unhooking the line, and narrowly missed the gold Madonna statue on top of the Duomo’s central spire. Luckily the incident only caused minor damage. The men were reprimanded by police, but no charges were pressed.

The moment when the 12-year-old boy punches the painting was recorded by CCTV Photo: via YouTube

The moment when the 12-year-old boy punches the painting was recorded by CCTV. Photo: via YouTube

5. Keep an eye on your kids.
When a 12-year-old Taiwanese boy tripped and irreparably damaged a $1.5 million Baroque painting by Paolo Porpora, the question on everybody’s mind was “Wwhat were his parents doing?” The unfortunate incident exposes what most parents already know. Museums and kids often don’t mix—after all, for many people art is an acquired taste. So it’s essential that you keep close watch over your children when taking in art and culture.


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