It’s a sad thing to say, but art doesn’t last forever. I mean, hey, some art isn’t actually meant to be around for very long— temporary exhibitions, ephemeral natural art, and one-time-only performances are all intentionally time-sensitive. Most other artworks are unintentionally doomed by their design in one way or another. Despite conservators’ best efforts, many human creations were simply constructed with imperfect materials and inevitably deteriorate as the years go on.
Then there’s the art that gets damaged because some dumbass walked by, *ahem* kid who “accidentally” punched a $1.5 million painting in Taipei.
Yes, sometimes a piece of art is aging quite well, but its lifespan is cut short by someone who was apparently never told, “Don’t touch the art.” In fact, 2016 was so full of unbelievable art destruction that we’ve rounded up a cringeworthy worst-of-the-worst of what not to do when you’re around irreplaceable artwork.
A selfie, but at what cost? In November, a visitor to Lisbon’s National Museum of Ancient Art knocked over and destroyed an 18th century statue depicting St. Michael while reportedly trying to take a selfie with the sculpture.
Shattered into multiple pieces, the damage was described by museum workers as “severe but reversable,” according to local media. If this story sound familiar, that’s because it is. A different person’s selfie-gone-wrong toppled a 126-year-old statue of Portuguese king Dom Sebastiao located in Libson’s Rossio railway station just last May.
Don’t touch the art. Just don’t do it. Back in May, Columbia Pennsylvania’s National Watch and Clock Museum posted a video to Youtube titled “Please Don't Touch!!!” Taken from the museum’s security footage, the video shows an older man and woman approach a wooden clock sculpture in one of the museum’s exhibitions. After taking a photo, the man tugs one part of the clock, then yanks another, continuing to pull and press parts of the sculpture seemingly in an attempt to get the clock to run. Eventually the man causes the clock to fall off the wall completely, smashing on the ground despite his desperate attempt to catch it.
The clock, which was made by Minnesota-based artist James Borden, had hung in the museum for more than 20 years. Borden reportedly agreed to attempt to fix the piece, and the museum appeared to neither press charges nor try to identify the man or the woman.
Sometimes, like in the infamous case of that elderly woman who infamously destroyed a 19th-century Spanish fresco while trying to ham-handedly restore it, people destroy art when actually trying to improve it. This appeared to be the case this July, when two Norwegian kids accidentally destroyed a 5,000 year old carving that was etched into a rock on the Norwegian island of Tro. The duo reportedly scraped into it with the intent of making the glyph more visible.
The anonymous boys inadvertently ruined what was considered one of history’s first depictions of skiing, and reportedly turned themselves in when someone reported the vandalism to authorities.
In another case, avant-garde art essentially tricked someone into messing with it. In July, a 91-year-old woman visiting the Neues Museum in Nuremberg defaced a piece called "Reading-work-piece," a 1965 artwork by Arthur Koepcke. Part of the piece looks like a partially filled-out crossword, accompanied with the phrase “insert words.” The elderly lady took this request seriously, found a ballpoint pen, and began filling out the crossword.
Curators reported the woman to the police for insurance reasons, but believe that the work (which is worth about $89,000) can be restored. Gerlinde Knopp, who was the leader of the trip to the museum that the woman attended, said the museum was full of interactive art, which makes it easy to lose sight of what visitors can and cannot do, according to BBC News.
Why must the good die young? In June, local media reported that a visitor to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art had tripped and brushed the surface of Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis painting. Though the damage was reportedly minimal, Warhol’s depictions of Elvis have been sold for around $81 million in the past, so SFMOMA wasn’t taking any chances. The painting was removed as a precaution from the gallery and was evaluated in a conservation studio. The painting is now back on view in the museum.
In May, worldwide media reported on a story that began to be spread on Chinese social media platforms about the accidental destruction of a giant LEGO sculpture in China. According to China-based site NetEase among others, an amateur Chinese artist spent three days and three nights building a human-sized replica of Nick Wilde, an anthropomorphic fox from the Disney movie Zootopia, from thousands of LEGO bricks for a mall display in China.
Upon completion, the statue had been on display for just one hour before a four-year-old accidentally knocked it down, smashing the piece beyond salvage. This incident happened the same month as security cameras caught two young boys destroying part of a delicate installation at the Shanghai Museum of Glass as their mothers looked on and took photos.
Lest we forget, ISIS had a field day destroying priceless ancient artifacts in Iraq and Syria. Thankfully, artists are one step ahead.