The Top 6 Accidents That Have Ravaged Artwork in Museums

It says "Do not touch" for a reason.

The remnants of Photo WEIBO/Trush
The remnants of Photo WEIBO/Trush

There is a reason why some people feel uptight about visiting museums and galleries: they are packed full of beautiful, rare, fragile, and expensive things, to the extent that they need be physically guarded. That can make people nervous. But then there are those who seem completely unfazed by their surroundings, and who like to “touch the art.”

So, when one hears of an over enthusiastic selfie taker, bored child, clumsy curator, an inconsiderate tourist, or just sheer bad luck, it’s always fascinating to hear the how, the what, the where, the when, and most intriguingly, the why.

Inspired by a rude man who recently knocked a rare clock off the wall at the National Watch & Clock Museum in Pennsylvania, we have compiled a list of our “favorite” art wrecking gaffs.

We are sorry, but artworks were hurt during the occurrence of these incidents.

1. The Mystery of the Smashed Lego Statue
There is an air of mystique surrounding the events last week that caused the Lego incarnation of Nick, the cartoon fox from the film Zootopia, to shatter into hundreds of blocks (see image above).

The only facts that have transpired are that a four-year-old boy was responsible and that his parents said he didn’t mean it …

The artist responsible for the intricate Lego sculpture, which cost around $15,000 to build, posted a visual diary of his process, which ended with a shot of the decimated sculpture, pictures of which have now circulated all around the world.

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

2. The Boy Who Punched a $1.5 Million Baroque Painting
Spare a thought for the 12-year-old boy who, on visiting the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei last August, stumbled and used a $1.5 million Paolo Porpora painting to break his fall. To add insult to injury, the boy was holding a soft drink in his hand, which went through the canvas.

The boy, who was visiting the exhibition “The Face of Leonardo, Images of a Genius,” punched a fist sized hole in the 350-year-old floral still life. In the video footage, which then went globally viral, the boy can be seen gazing in horror at his mistake.

Luckily for the family, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park doesn’t maintain a “you break it, you own it” policy and the damage to the masterpiece was covered by insurance.

A toppled Cy Twombly. Photo via Robert Boyd/TheGreatGodPanIsDead.com

The toppled Cy Twombly. Photo via Robert Boyd/ TheGreatGodPanIsDead.com

3. The Cy Twombly Sculpture Debacle
Last year, a Cy Twombly sculpture was knocked at the Menil Collection in Houston. The incident was witnessed by artist John Hovig, who took on the role of reporter and broadcast it online for all to see (and cringe).

Hovig and a friend were visiting the Texas museum when they heard a crash in the next room. On rushing in, they were greeted by two curators hurriedly trying to right the toppled Twombly.

Hovig posted a photo on his Facebook page of a surprised looking museum worker with text: “An untitled Twombly sculpture (1954) gets an accidental hit. When I heard the noise from the other room, I assumed it was a new piece of kinetic art. The two curators below were righting it as I left.”

Minoan Pottery Vase Photo Wikimedia Commons

Unshmashed Minoan Pottery Vase Photo Wikimedia Commons

4. The Fatal Fate of the Ancient Vase
One unfortunate visitor to the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in Crete tripped and fell while admiring a display, and grabbed a 4,000-year-old Minoan vase on her way down.

Sadly, she broke the vase and suffered minor injuries to her legs in the process. But, luckily, the artifact was promptly repaired and put back on display.

It later transpired that the vase had been already broken once before by some clumsy Cretan thousands of years ago, and repaired around that same time.

Goldschmied & Chiari, Where Are We Going to Dance Tonight?. Photo: Museion, via Facebook.

Goldschmied & Chiari, Where Are We Going to Dance Tonight?.
Photo Museion, via Facebook.

5. The Doomed Party Installation
When Italian artists Goldschmied & Chiari installed their party-themed piece Where Are We Going to Dance Tonight? (2015)—a jolly display of empty champagne bottles, streamers, glitter, and cigarette butts—they were so happy with it they took a photograph and posted it to social media.

Later that night, though, when the cleaners at the Museion Museum for Modern and Contemporary Art in Bolanzo, Italy, dutifully came in to work, they cleaned the entire work away and threw it in the bin, as they thought the artwork was the remainder of an actual party.

“We told them just to clean the foyer because that’s where the event on Friday night had been. Evidently, they mistook the installation for the foyer,” the museum’s director Letizia Ragaglia told Italian paper Alto Adige at the time.

Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963), similar to the one at SFMOMA sold for $81.9 million (estimate in the region of $70 million). Courtesy of Christie's.

Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963), similar to the one at SFMOMA, sold for $81.9 million (estimate in the region of $70 million). Courtesy of Christie’s.

6. The $80 Million Andy Warhol Painting That Was Elbowed
Last, but definitely not least, the most recent and expensive example: a visitor to the brand new SFMOMA tripped and hit the surface of Andy Warhol‘s 1963 Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] last week. The painting was removed from the gallery last Friday, and it is still being evaluated in the museum’s conservation studio.

To put the accident in perspective, some factual information: a painting from the same series by Warhol sold in November 2014 at Christie’s New York for $81.9 million, according to the artnet Price Database. Ouch.


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