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Art

Seven Pieces of Priceless Art People Ruined in 2017

This is why we can't have nice things.

Peter Slattery

Peter Slattery

(L) Screencap via The Aspen Times; (R) Screencap via YouTube 

My third worst fear—after kidney stones and nuclear war—is getting yelled at by a museum security guard. Maybe I'm a weenie, but I dread the unique embarrassment that comes from trespassing against our culture's hallowed protectors.

Thankfully, I'm not any of the following people.

Last year I compiled a list of all the priceless art people destroyed in 2016, at least partly in the hopes that we humans would better preserve our artistic legacy in 2017. Then, 2017 happened. Here’s what we lost:

A Yayoi Kusama Pumpkin

Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors exhibition had been open for less than a week at Washington DC’s Hirshhorn when a visitor broke a glowing pumpkin sculpture in late February, reportedly while trying to get a selfie.

Museum spokesperson Allison Peck confirmed the incident, which occurred in the Kusama mirror room titled Infinity Mirrored Room—All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins. Peck told Hyperallergic that “a piece… sustained minor damage and the room was closed temporarily,” and confirmed to the New York Times that a guest “took an accidental misstep” from a small platform, damaging one of the spotted sculptures.

Though a single similar Kusama sculpture sold for nearly $800,000 in 2015, Peck told artnet that “the individual pumpkins within the Infinity Room hold no intrinsic value on their own,” explaining that the cost of replacing one pumpkin was “negligible.” A replacement pumpkin was sent for, and the room of gourds was back up and running the next day.

Thomas Gainsborough’s The Morning Walk

In March, a wing of London’s National Gallery was evacuated after a man attacked a famous Thomas Gainsborough painting with a drill bit. Sixty-three-year-old Keith Gregory reportedly vandalized the English painter’s work, The Morning Walk, after he said voices in his head told him to “put a mark on the painting and your family will find you.”

The 1785 painting, valued in the tens of millions, suffered around $13,500 of damage from two scratches, and was restored and reinstalled in ten days. Gregory, who was formerly homeless and had been treated for paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations, was charged with causing criminal damage, but was cleared of the charges by reason of insanity in December.

Christopher Wool’s Untitled 2004

In early May, an unknown man wearing sunglasses and a hat entered Aspen’s Opera Gallery and slashed a painting by American artist Christopher Wool.

The painting, Untitled 2004, is valued at just under $3 million. The man, whose motive and identity are still unknown, cut two holes into the canvas with a sharp object, destroying the work according to gallery owner Gregory Lahmi. A representative of the painting's owners later stated through an attorney that the damage was “minimal,” though the lawyer did not say how much it cost to repair.

The disguised art attacker has yet to be caught, with an Aspen police representative saying in November that local cops were in the midst of an international investigation “dealing with sending search warrants from little ol' Aspen to Interpol."

Simon Birch’s 14th Factory Crowns

In July, a woman visiting British multimedia artist Simon Birch’s interdisciplinary exhibition The 14th Factory in Los Angeles lost her balance while taking appearing to take a selfie, sending a series of pedestals carrying avant-garde crowns tumbling in a domino affect.

A clip of the incident, uploaded to YouTube by a man claiming to be a “mate” of Birch’s, has racked up more than 7 million views to date.

Though some speculated that the video could be a staged stunt for viral promotion of his exhibit, Birch told media that it was truly an unexpected accident, estimating the damage done to his art at about $200,000.

Jacques Newashish’s La Femme De La Nuit Hibou

Last August, a wooden totem created to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women at Montreal’s First Peoples’ Festival was accidentally destroyed by a city employee. According to the Montreal Gazette, Atikamekw artist Jacques Newashish spent three days using a chainsaw and an axe to create a wooden sculpture titled La Femme De La Nuit Hibou ("The Owl Night Woman"), which he planned to eventually burn in a symbolic purification ceremony.

A city worker assigned to clean up wood chips at the event, however, was reportedly ordered by a festival official to throw out the nearly finished totem along with the scraps. "The fate of this artwork is ironic given the message that the artist wanted to send, emphasizing the injustice experienced by missing Indigenous women and affected families," Newashish's partner, Clode Jalette, said on Facebook. Festival organizers called the situation "an unfortunate error" and admitted that they "should have been more vigilant."

Two original Warhols—and more

Just barely making the cut in time for this list, a Texas woman was accused of destroying two original Andy Warhol paintings in late December. According to CBS affiliate KHOU, freelance court reporter Lindy Lou Layman, 29, was on a first date with prominent Houston attorney and Trump fundraiser Anthony Buzbee when things apparently went sour.

After the pair ended up at Buzbee's mansion, Layman, who Buzbee claims was drunk, allegedly refused to leave the house after he called her several Ubers. He says she then began defacing his high-end art collection, reportedly pouring red wine on two original Warhols, valued at $500,000, along with another expensive painting, and throwing two sculptures, valued at $20,000 each, across a room. Layman, who reportedly caused $300,000 worth of damage, was arrested on felony criminal mischief charges and released on a $30,000 bond. "She also pulled a Renoir and a Monet off the wall," Buzbee told Texas Lawyer. "Luckily those weren’t damaged."

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