‘Very Aggravated’ Teenage Vandal Smashes Rare Works of Animal Art at the Denver Art Museum

Security guards tackled and subdued an 18-year-old man after he began purposely breaking sculptures on view in "Stampede."

Unknown Artist, Standing Dog, Comala style (State of Colima, Western Mexico, Mexico), circa 300 B.C.–A.D. 300. This is one of the artworks on view in the Denver Art Museum's
Unknown Artist, Standing Dog, Comala style (State of Colima, Western Mexico, Mexico), circa 300 B.C.–A.D. 300. This is one of the artworks on view in the Denver Art Museum's "Stampede" exhibition, but it was not damaged by the vandal. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

A bizarre vandalism incident at the Denver Art Museum saw 10 artworks damaged over the weekend, as a visitor went on a rampage Sunday afternoon, smashing sculptures including a 19th-century Qing dynasty Chinese vase and a Pre-Columbian Mayan vessel. They were all part of the exhibition “Stampede: Animals in Art,” comparing how animals have been depicted in art across different cultures over the centuries.

“Affected objects are being evaluated by the Denver Art Museum’s art conservation staff, and details about repairs are not yet available,” the museum said in an email to artnet News. “A single gallery space in ‘Stampede’ will continue to be closed for reinstallation for the next few days.”

It is unclear what set off the perpetrator, Jake Siebenlist, 18, who “was observed by several witnesses and security causing extensive damage to various art sculptures, artifacts and paintings on the fourth floor,” according to the police report (as provided by Westword). “Security at the scene tried to gain control of Siebenlist who pushed the museum patrons out of his path, making his way towards other art sculptures and paintings.”

After being tackled and subdued by guards, Siebenlist was arrested at the museum and charged with criminal mischief, a felony offense. The incident was captured on surveillance tape, and the museum has turned the footage over to law enforcement. No other visitors were involved in the vandalism, and no one was injured.

Unknown Artist, Breastplate with Frontal Figure, Parita style (Parita region, Azuero Peninsula, Central Panama), circa A.D. 1150–1400. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

Unknown Artist, Breastplate with Frontal Figure, Parita style (Parita region, Azuero Peninsula, Central Panama), circa 1150–1400. This is one of the artworks on view in the Denver Art Museum’s “Stampede” exhibition, but it was not damaged by the vandal. Photo courtesy of the Denver Art Museum.

“He was very aggravated and, obviously, not in a state of mind that was reasonable,” said Christoph Heinrich, the director of the museum, at a press conference, as reported by the New York Times. “This is a totally unreasonable, weird thing,” he added, noting that it was without precedent both for the museum and in his career.

The museum has not released an estimated value for the damaged artworks. “Every object for us has a cultural value that is enormous,” Heinrich told the Associated Press. “Our conservators are stellar and I am very confident that they will be able to conserve and restore hopefully most of the objects.”

Among the 300 objects on view in “Stampede” are works by famous artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Deborah Butterfield, and Frederic Remington. None of these appear to have been damaged.

Here is the full list of the damaged artworks:

  • Wolf Headdress Mask
  • Raven Rattle Tlingit
  • Jain-Style Figurine
  • Moche Portrait Bottle
  • Chinese Vase with Phoenixes
  • Moche Rattle Bowl
  • Mayan Fish-Shaped Vessel
  • Mayan Vessel with God on Bird
  • Chinese Initiator Sculpture
  • Beware of Cranes Sculpture

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