From appliances to furniture, we’ve all managed to break all kinds of objects. Clumsiness has gotten to the best of us. Luckily, though, we don’t make an appearance on this list of 5 worst art accidents that amount to millions of dollars in damage (and a lifetime of regret).
We’ve all heard about artists who destroyed their own masterpieces, like when Claude Monet shredded 15 of his Water Lilies paintings in 1908 because he thought they just weren’t good enough. In that case, you could argue that the destruction of the artworks gave value to the artist while it took away value from the paintings, but on the other hand, some artists made the destruction of an artwork be the artwork itself, as when Robert Rauschenberg literally Erased de Kooning. The value there became the actual destruction of the work of an icon, but what happens when this damage is not intentional?
As valuable as some pieces might be, there’s only so much that can be done to protect them from unprecedented accidents (and clumsy little boys). As if eternal shame weren’t enough, here’s an incriminating list of some of the worst art accidents in history.
1. A Kiss with a Fist
If you were anywhere on social media last year, you’ve probably seen this video of a young boy in Taipei who punched a hole through a painting worth around $1.5 million. Of course, this was not done intentionally, but this little mishap has most likely traumatized this 12-year-old boy for the rest of his life.
Last year, as the boy walked through a Leonardo da Vinci-themed show at Taipei’s Huashan 1915 Creative Arts Center, he tripped and fell on a 17th-century painting, punching a fist-sized hole through the valuable, centuries-old piece. Flowers, by the Italian Baroque artist Paolo Porpora, had to undergo restoration by experts in Taipei. Luckily, the insurance covered the costs of the damages but unluckily, the accident was caught on video, so this young boy’s million-dollar slip-up will never be forgotten. Click here to see the full video.
2. An Elbow to a Picasso
In 2006, “casino magnate” Steve Wynn got a little too comfortable next to his 1932 masterpiece and flung his elbow right through it. Originally done by one of the greatest artists to ever live, Le Rêve was a portrait by Pablo Picasso of his mistress, Marie Thérèse-Walter. The painting was purchased by Wynn for $48 million in 1997 and shortly before the incident, the patron had agreed to sell the painting to SAC Capital Advisors founder Steve Cohen for $155 million. In a sort of “going away” party for the portrait, one of Picasso’s most famous works, Wynn got too close to the artwork when showing it to his friends. All it took was an innocent (but costly) gesture, and his elbow pierced right through the canvas! The 6-inch tear was eventually repaired and Le Rêve was sold to Cohen, but Wynn’s clumsy mistake is too funny to forget.
3…And there goes another Picasso
Most New Yorkers know how crazy it can get inside the Met Museum when there are so many tourists fighting for a glimpse of some of the greatest masterpieces in the world. Art lovers collect in the never-ending hallways and gallery spaces in the museum where they can see an extensive collection of works by Monet, Degas, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and many other great names. Amongst those stood a $130 million painting by Pablo Picasso that suffered more than just light exposure from camera flashes. In 2010, a young woman lost her balance and fell on Picasso’s 1905 painting titled The Actor, leaving behind a 6-inch vertical tear in the canvas. To her relief (and the curator’s), the rip was not in the focal point of the painting, which made restoration possible just in time for the “Picasso in the Metropolitan Museum of Art” exhibition.
4. Trashing Damien Hirst
Like asking someone how many weeks they’re along in their pregnancy only to find out it was just one salient beer-belly, a cleaner at a west London art gallery disposed of Damien Hirst’s installation believing that it was trash. A fine line separates some modern art from rubbish and in this case, the line was looking very blurry to Emmanuel Asare when he disposed of the half-empty coffee cups, beer bottles, newspapers, and full ashtrays that he assumed were the remnants of a party. It was, in fact, Hirst’s representation of an artist’s studio and being such a well-known figure in the art world, the pile of junk was valued very highly. Fortunately, the damage could be easily fixed, and the artist even found the mistake to be funny. Asare was, after all, the first and most severe critic to review Hirst’s new piece.
5. Not the Fine China!
As we have learned from watching sitcoms and cartoons, the breaking of precious china makes for a good laugh and often, an irreparable mistake. It seems like the more delicate the object is, the greater is its magnetic field attracting disaster. By the picture, I assume you all know where this is going.
These three Qing Dynasty Vases were on display at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge when a 6-foot man rolled down the staircase and into the marble windowsill, colliding with one of the vases that consequently took down the other two. These intricately designed vases were approximately 300 years old and cost between $400,000 and $500,000. They were shattered to pieces when Nick Flynn accidentally tripped on his shoelace, and although the vases have been glued back together, Flynn has been banned from the museum.
Check out an video showing how the vases were put back together.