July 30, 2008

Damage report

In The Guardian Laura Barnett reports that sometimes visitors damage artwork, but more likely gallery staff are to blame. "Incidents of damage involving gallery visitors are few and far between; works of art stand a far greater chance of being destroyed at the hands of curators, picture handlers or cleaners. Most of the major galleries have had to issue shame-faced apologies for breakages at one time or another. Four years ago, a rubbish bag which formed part of an installation by Gustav Metzger, entitled Recreation of First Public Demonstration of Auto-Destructive Art, was innocently gathered up by a cleaner at Tate Britain and thrown into a crusher. In 2001, a delicate shell-shaped glass sculpture by the US artist Dale Chihuly, valued at £35,000, was smashed by a contractor setting up for an evening function at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. And in 2000, a Lucian Freud drawing, worth £100,000 and still in its packing case, was accidentally put through a shredder at Sotheby's auction house....'The kind of incident where people fall across a cordon in a gallery is very unusual,' Robert Read, a fine art underwriter at the specialist insurers Hiscox, says. "Far more common is works being wrongly packed, dropped, or left on the tarmac when a plane gets diverted. If you left a painting out on the runway in Mumbai during monsoon season, for instance, you would have a problem. Sometimes, of course, the circumstances in which a work of art gets wrecked are far more prosaic. Consider for a moment the case of the millionaire casino owner and art collector Steve Wynn. In October 2006, Wynn was showing off Picasso's "Le Rêve" to friends in his Las Vegas office, a masterpiece he had just agreed to sell for £70m, when he put his elbow through the canvas. He swore - I bet the woman at the Royal Academy swore, too." Read more.

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