Elbows Are Dangerous: 8 Tales Of Destroyed Art

If you’re going to museums without the constant worry of damaging artwork, you probably aren’t reading the news enough. After a Taiwanese 12 year-old tripped into a 17th-century oil on canvas, and a little girl broke a 2000 year-old vase in Israel, we all better be a bit more surefooted on our next visit to see ancient, priceless works of art. But, in the spirit of “it’s okay little kids, it happens!” we’ve rounded up eight other times that human gaffes — or just plain stupidity — have led to damaging expensive work.

1. Miami Artist Smashes Ai Weiwei Vase

In protest of Miami art complex Perez Art Museum Miami not showing enough support of local artists, Maximo Caminero walked into Ai Weiwei’s “According To What?” exhibit and smashed one of the vases on display. Although Ai Weiwei is known for his smashing of Han dynasty vases, he didn’t appreciate his artwork being used for protest. “My work belongs to me,” he told CNN. “It doesn’t belong to the public and it also doesn’t belong to anyone else.”

2. Tourists Break Hercules Statue With Misguided Selfie

Two men attempting the selfie of a lifetime climbed on top of The Statue Of Two Hercules in the Italian city of Cremona and — as you’d expect when climbing on centuries old art — it did not go well. The statue, which was created in 1700, crumbled beneath them. They at least should’ve done it for the Vine!

3. Picasso’s “The Actor” Torn By A Stray Elbow

Back in January 2010, a stray elbow from a woman taking an adult education class at the Metropolitan Museum Art tore a six inch tear in a rare Rose Period Picasso. Luckily, the painting was artfully restored and is back at the Met — with a layer of plexiglass to protect it from any other clumsy museum-goers.

4. The Story Of Spain’s “Ecce Homo” Fresco

In 2012, the citizens of a tiny Spanish town awoke to find their beloved fresco “Ecce Homo” completely unrecognizable. While at first they believed it to be vandalism, 83-year old Cecilia Gimenez stepped forward saying it was her attempt at a restoration. International art critic outrage ensued. But, in the three years since “Potato Jesus” was born, the boom of tourism in the town has saved its economy, and the royalties earned by Gimenez are being donated to a charity for muscular dystrophy — a condition her son suffers from.

5. “When It Starts Dripping From The Ceilings” Gets Cleaned

When an overzealous janitor saw what she thought was a stain on “When It Starts Dripping From The Ceilings” by German artist Martin Kippenberger, she followed her instincts and cleaned. Unfortunately, the stain was part of the original work which is now “impossible to return to its original state.” This is one of the rare times that someone is just too good at their job.

6. Man Falls Down Stairs, Breaks £100,000 of Qing Dynasty Vases

In a moment that seems straight out a sitcom plotline, Nick Flynn, a visitor to the Fitzwilliam museum in Cambridge, tripped over an untied shoelace at the top of the stairs. He then proceeded to tumble down the flight of stairs, destroying the Qing Dynasty vases that sat at the bottom. While it’s definitely a tragedy, who designed a museum where vases worth thousands of dollars sit at the bottom of a flight of stairs?

7. Steve Wynn Elbows A Picasso

Immediately before attempting to sell Picasso’s “Le Reve” for a record breaking price, Steve Wynn, the 512th richest person in the world, aggressively gestured while standing next to the painting. In the end, his elbow went through the canvas. All wasn’t lost though. The painting was restored and recently sold for $155 million. Not too shabby.

8. Damien Hirst’s Trash Gets Mistaken For Trash

When you make art out of garbage, it’s easy to think that it’s garbage, a lesson that we should all learn today. When an Eyestorm gallery cleaner stumbled across Damien Hirst’s impromptu trash exhibit, he immediately cleaned up the mess. Luckily, the artist himself found the mistake “fantastic” and “very funny.”

Photos via Daniel Azoulay, Don Pollard, AP, Bernd Thissen, The Fitzwilliam Museum, and PabloPicasso.Org

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