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On Purpose:

Wanna punch a Picasso? How about wrecking a Rembrandt? Kick a deKooning? Visit our gallery of vandalized art to see the important contributions irate museum visitors have made to our collection!

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thinker pieta frankenthaler holy virgin vigo the carpathian

By Accident:

People are damn clumsy sometimes. This transcendent truth led the curators of the Damforst to consider an important question: Why do artists even bother creating art despite the high probability of some graceless knucklehead ultimately destroying it?

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elgin marbles le reve vases kylix

thinker The Thinker, Auguste Rodin

by Brian Williams

At approximately 1:00 am on March 24, 1970, Rodin's The Thinker, on display outside the Cleveland Museum of Art, was damaged by a pipe bomb placed on the base of the sculpture. Nobody was arrested for the vandalism.

After much debate, the Museum decided to keep the sculpture in its current damaged condition "as a statement of the importance of public art and its vulnerability." The Damforst curators would like to thank the mystery vandal and the Cleveland Museum of Art for their generous contribution to the Damforst collection.

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pieta Pietà, Michelangelo

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the bay The Bay, Helen Frankenthaler

by Dayna Jalkanen

Helen Frankenthaller was an immensely influential abstract artist who is best known for experimenting with acrylic paints on raw canvas. The Detroit Institute of Arts' The Bay is one of her more well-known and celebrated paintings, as well as one of the most valuable works in the DIA's collection (1). On February 24, 2006, a 12-year old boy who was part of a school tour with Holly Academy to the Institute inexplicably decided to stick his wad of gum onto this very valuable 1963 Frankenthaller painting (2).

Julie Kildee, director of Holly Academy, confirmed that the student was immediately suspended. She stated that while the Academy has strict behavioral guidelines, the student was only 12 and likely did not fully appreciate the seriousness of his act. She went on to say, however, that "he certainly understands the severity of it now." She even confirmed that the student received additional disciplinary action from his parents. The DIA was thoughtful enough to take proactive intervention measures with the student, calling on Becky Hart-- the museum's Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art-- to explain to him the detrimental ramifications of his actions. She told the Detroit Free Press that she knew simply explaining to him the museum's role as art preserver would not likely be all that meaningful to him, so she instead made an analogy using music. She simply asked the boy what would have happened to the rhythms of rap (his self-proclaimed favorite genre of music) if the beats of rock and roll had been messed up. Said Hart, "He looked at me, and he got it immediately."

Once the staff realized what had happened to The Bay, they promptly removed the loosely stuck-on gum, although it did leave a quarter-sized chemical stain on the painting. Knowing, however, that the gum was Wrigley's Extra Polar Ice brand helped restorers to quickly figure out what ingredients they would be dealing with, and how best to safely remove the residue. Concerning the well-being of the painting, Hart noted, "In the scheme of things, this is upsetting, and it will make us review our policies. But we're confident that the painting will be ok" (3).

Fortunately, Hart was correct and The Bay was fully restored and returned safely to its spot in the galleries. The DIA wrote a fascinating and detailed blog about the restoration process which can be read here (4).

1, 2, 3, 4: Retrieved February 11, 2009

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holy virgin The Holy Virgin Mary, Chris Ofili

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vigor Vigo the Carpathian, Unknown

by Brian Williams

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There comes a time in every art historian's career when he or she encounters a haunted painting. Most are unharmed, but there are an unfortunate few who become possessed by the spirit trapped inside the canvas. In the case of the painting titled Vigo the Carpathian though, the real crime occurred when the irresponsible Ghostbusters destroyed this 18th century masterpiece of Balkan Romanticism with their proton streams and positively-charged mood slime.

In 1989, Dr. Janosz Poha, chief restorer at the Manhattan Museum of Art, was cleaning Vigo the Carpathian when the spirit of Vigo zapped Poha with an eyeball ray, thus taking control of Poha's body. Vigo's figure disappeared from the surface of the canvas, replaced by an image of his giant floating head and a diabolical river of slime. Vigo's disembodied head spoke to Poha, instructing Poha to find for him the body of an infant for his spirit to possess, so that he may return to earth and reign forever as a living god. Naturally, Poha thought of his employee Dana Barrett, who recently gave birth to her son Oscar.

Vigo the Carpathian was a 16th century tyrant and sociopath who lived for 105 years. He claimed to have sat on a "throne of blood." He was also known as Vigo the Despised, Vigo the Cruel, and Vigo the Unholy. Gruesomely executed in 1610, Vigo was poisoned, shot, hung, and finally drawn and quartered. Before his head died, it said, "Death is but a door, time is but a window. I will be back." The artist who painted his famous portrait, its provenance, or how it became part of the collection at the Manhattan Museum of Art is unknown.

What is known is that this painting was irreparably damaged by Ray Stantz, Winston Zeddemore, Egon Spengler, and Peter Venkman in an attempt to save Dana's son Oscar from being possessed by Vigo's spirit. While we must thank the Ghostbusters for saving us all from an eternal Hell on earth, we mourn the destruction of this one-of-a-kind work of art.

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elgin marbles The marble sculptures of the Parthenon frieze and pediment (a.k.a. "The Elgin Marbles")

by Brian Williams

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The world-renowned British Museum owns about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. But the British Museum's conservancy of the sculptures has not been without controversy. Not only is the museum in the midst of an international tug-of-war with Greece over the ownership of the sculptures, called the "Elgin marbles" after the British aristocrat who removed them from the Parthenon at the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they may also have damaged the sculptures in 1938 (1) after a botched attempt to clean them.

another view of marbles In 1939, after word got out that the sculptures may have been damaged, the museum's trustees tried to keep the story out of the papers, which only intensified the scandal. The statement the trustees belatedly released to the press did not assure the public. They admitted that the sculptures were cleaned using "unauthorized methods" without the knowledge of the supervisors in charge of the cleaning, but "to anyone but an expert their effect is imperceptible" (Jenkins, 2001, p10). These "unauthorized methods" involved scraping the surfaces of the sculptures with copper tools in order to remove the layers of black soot that had accumulated on the surface of the sculptures from decades of exposure to the smoky London air and the coal-fired furnaces of the museum (Jenkins, 2001).

tools In the museum's defense, experts have trouble agreeing over the extent of the damage, if any, that was caused by the 1937-8 cleaning. The resultant "whiteness" of the sculptures after the cleaning looked unnatural to the public, who were not used to seeing the sculptures without their outer layers of soot (Jenkins, 2001). The scandal was more of a result of a botched public-relations job on the part of the museum trustees—which the museum is the first to admit—than any willfully negligent action taken by the museum's employees tasked with cleaning the sculptures. But the museum is quick to disregard those who bring up the 1930 cleaning scandal as restitution "lobbyists" looking for another reason to demand the sculptures be returned to Greece.

The cleaning controversy raises legitimate questions that need to be asked, such as: What is a museum's role in preserving ancient artifacts? Does it preserve the artifact in the exact condition in which it was found, or should it attempt to restore the object to its original state? Archaeologists have argued time and again—especially in cases of looted antiquities—that context is everything when it comes to understanding the nature of these objects, and that even the dirt encrusted on their surfaces is crucial evidence. It is true that the museum was attempting to clean off dirt that had collected on the sculptures since their installation in the museum, but how much of the sculptures' ancient surfaces were scraped off with the soot? "What we do not want to be told is that evidence was there once, but was taken off because it didn't look very nice," writes Ian Jenkins in his 2001 article about the cleaning scandal (p.30). But Jenkins is no restitutionist; he believes the Parthenon sculptures should stay where they are, and is openly critical of anyone who suggests otherwise. Here, he sums up the controversy surrounding the actions of the British Museum in the 1930s:

The British Museum does not defend their mistakes, nor claim a right to a record of impeccable curatorship. No museum could. The British Museum is not infallible; its history is pretty much a formula for the human condition itself, a series of good intentions marred by the occasional mistake (p.30).

In other words, the British Museum knows what is best for the Parthenon statues, but one cannot blame them for screwing up once in a while.

Greece is still waiting to reunify the Parthenon's ancient masterpieces; statues that have not been seen together as they were in antiquity for more than two hundred years. But even after the New Acropolis Museum opened, the British Museum still has not begun negotiations with Greece. "There are no plans to return the sculptures," the museum said in a written statement to Sherr in 2009.

Visit the Stolen Gallery to read about Lord Elgin's removal of the sculptures from the Parthenon and Greece's fight to get them back.


Jenkins, I (2001). Cleaning and Controversy: The Parthenon Sculptures 1811–1939. The British Museum Occasional Paper, 146. London: The British Museum Press.

1: Retrieved March 27, 2011

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le reve Le Reve, Pablo Picasso

by Brian Williams

In September 2006, casino mogul Steve Wynn accidentally elbowed the canvas of Picasso's Le Reve, which he had just announced he sold to Steven Cohen for $139 million. The resulting hole was about the size of his thumb, he said.

Wynn was showing the painting to a group of guests, including Barbara Walters, Nicolas Pileggi and screenwriter Nora Ephron, when he damaged it. You can read Ephron's in-depth portrayal of the incident here.

In 2007 Wynn sued his insurance company for the difference of the reduced value of the painting after he poked it.

More articles:
Los Angeles Times: The rip heard 'round the world
Nora Ephron: My Weekend in Vegas

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Chinese Vases, Qing Dynasty

by Brian Williams

On January 25, 2006, a museum visitor at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England tripped down a flight of stairs and took three Qing Dynasty vases with him. The visitor was unharmed, though slightly dazed, and when Museum staff ran to the scene he was heard saying, "There it is; that's the culprit." as he pointed to his shoelace.

The public and the press believed the vases were destroyed forever, but Fitzwilliam conservators miraculously restored them to their original condition. Click here to see the amazing reenactment of that fateful winter day and the complex process of putting the vases back together.

Article Links:
bbc news: How do you fix a smashed antique vase?

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The Sarpedon kylix, Euphronios

by Brian Williams

Visit the Stolen Gallery to read about how the Sarpedon kylix was damaged.

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