Million-Dollar Oooops!

Most Expensive Art Accidents

Million-Dollar Oooops!
September 18, 2015

When a 12-year old boy armed with soda meets an expensive painting, guess who wins? It's not the painting, the displaying museum, or the insurance company, that’s for sure.

Recently in Taipei, Taiwan, a 12-year old boy holding a large soda tripped in front of a 350-year old painting on loan from Italy. While trying to keep from falling over, the boy managed to push his soda-carrying hand into the canvas, creating a fist-sized hole in the $1.5 million painting. Restoration efforts are underway.

It is surprising these incidents do not happen more often — especially in any museum that allows sodas (and possibly 12-year old boys). While they are rare, there have been other high-priced accidents involving art and human error.

  • The Actor's Comeback – In January of 2010, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, a woman accidentally fell into Picasso's The Actor, creating a six-inch rip. The estimated value of the piece was $130 million. After three months of painstaking repair and restoration, The Actor made a re-appearance, this time behind plexiglass.
  • A Change of Art – In 2006, billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn decided to sell some of his museum-quality collection of paintings including Picasso's 1932 work Le Rêve. Wynn agreed to sell the painting to fellow collector and hedge fund boss Steve Cohen.

During a get-together after the appraisal, Wynn accidentally tore a two-inch hole in the canvas of Le Rêve with his elbow, gesturing while not realizing how close he was to the painting. As he was having the painting restored, Wynn decided the accident was a sign that he should keep the painting and cancelled the deal. He reversed yet again and sold the painting to Cohen in 2013.

  • A Little Too Clean ­– Modern art can provide a difference set of risks, as it is not always obvious what constitutes a piece of art. German artist Martin Kippenberger created a modern sculpture titled "When It Starts Dripping From The Ceiling," a wooden tower with a trough mounted at the base of the sculpture. Kippenberger included a paint layer to mimic a dried puddle inside the trough. During its time at the Ostwall Museum in Berlin, a conscientious cleaning lady "cleaned" the trough to look like new. At the time, the sculpture was estimated to be worth $1.1 million.
  • Vanquished Vases – A visitor to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England, tripped on a shoelace and tumbled down a stairway, knocking over three 300-year old Chinese vases dating back to the Qing dynasty. The visitor was unharmed, but the vases did not fare so well. The vases, valued at a total of $175,000, were restored after six months of effort and placed in a specially designed case. Up until that point, the vases had been sitting undisturbed in a window recess for sixty years.
  • Crushed Canvas – At least in the above cases, artwork could be restored. In 2000, Sotheby's employees sent what they thought was an empty traveling crate to a crusher. Unfortunately, the crate contained a painting by British modern artist Lucian Freud worth approximately $157,000. The painting was completely obliterated. No doubt the Sotheby's staff wished equal obliteration on the poor workers who sent the painting off to its doom.

What can artists and galleries learn from this? Make sure your works of art are properly displayed, labeled, and protected as much as possible. Otherwise, the odds are good that eventually some calamity will befall one of your beloved pieces, whether the calamity is initiated by museum and transportation workers, cleaning staff, or a patron with poor balance and bad luck.

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  Conversation   |   36 Comments

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Daniel | 09.18.15 @ 16:02
Wow some devastating losses to art world there. Amazing how it seems so many could be avoided
Kamie | 09.18.15 @ 16:04
Who lets a kid in with a soda anyways? All those as an artist and a collector would have had me in flames.
Crystal | 09.18.15 @ 16:05
Sometimes art goofs are worth millions, right? They call it contemporary. Great article!
Chrisitna | 09.18.15 @ 16:06
You would think that with the high value of these paintings, there would be much more care paid!
Sara | 09.18.15 @ 16:06
First off what museum is crazy enough to let people in with food and drink. Secondly I would not want to be the one to explain what happened to the art.
Beverly | 09.18.15 @ 16:11
It's crazy that artwork worth that much would be displayed out in the open without any protection is just crazy and honestly foolish. I'm just glad the majority could be restored, hopefully they've learned their lesson.
steven | 09.18.15 @ 16:11
Wouldnt want to be the bearer of bad news on a goof up.
Steffanie | 09.18.15 @ 16:17
A mom's worst nightmare. Not sure I would have let my child in there with any type of drink.
Nancy | 09.18.15 @ 16:22
These are cringe worthy. It's no wonder that so many pieces are placed behind glass.
Angie | 09.18.15 @ 16:23
Oh my goodness! Can you imagine knowing that you are personally responsible for thousands or even millions of dollars worth of damage? Does the artwork still have the same value after having to be restored?
Alec | 09.18.15 @ 16:26
Reading this made my soul hurt. No matter how good a restoration it is, the paintings will never be the same again. It's also kind of funny reading these too though, I guess. Especially the one about the vases. Everything should be well protected though instead of just sitting around. People are clumsy!
Bobbie | 09.18.15 @ 16:36
I can't understand why all these pieces of expensive art are not more protected. It's not like a sheet of plexi-glass will detract from being able to view them, and they will be protected from accidents.
Elaine | 09.18.15 @ 16:38
Oh my, I can't believe that the art museum didn't take better precautions.
Sarah | 09.18.15 @ 16:42
It is in equal parts sad and maddening. These things hold that value and should be treated as such.
Ron | 09.18.15 @ 16:43
It is a tragedy when art is lost as that manner of expression is lost or altered foreverer. Better security, perhaps, but that would impede the flow of a consumption of art.
Selena | 09.18.15 @ 16:54
Seems like a lot of those accidents should have been easily avoided.
Jonathan | 09.18.15 @ 17:02
I never really understood, in galleries especially these ridiculously high value works, why they are basically just hanging on the wall like a print you buy from Target?
Ambar | 09.18.15 @ 17:15
Well, some of this could've been prevented. I wonder what happens to the person.
Jo Ann | 09.18.15 @ 17:17
It is so nice to know that what I thought were major goofs that I have made aren't as big as these goofs. I would really have a headache after one of these. Great article!
Heather | 09.18.15 @ 17:21
It's amazing though how even when they've been related they've held value. I would think not being in the original condition they wouldn't be worth as much.
gracie | 09.18.15 @ 17:23
Isn't it amazing that we don't take more care with our priceless artifacts?
Britt | 09.18.15 @ 17:49
I remember when the jesus painting happened... why that was even allowed to happen is beyond me.
irene | 09.18.15 @ 17:49
Wow that's an expensive soda. I wonder why they even allow people in with food or drinks.
Morgan | 09.18.15 @ 17:53
Such a waste of art.
Christina | 09.18.15 @ 17:54
I would think with art worth this much,I would make sure it was protected.
Kailie | 09.18.15 @ 17:56
I really don't understand how things like this even happens in the first place.. soda ? How!?
George | 09.18.15 @ 18:02
I couldn't imagine if one of my kids or myself would do that much damage.
Rychana | 09.18.15 @ 18:09
They should have better protections at museums for art work. It is a shame that irreplaceable items can be damaged like that.
Blake | 09.18.15 @ 18:10
They should be more careful with the art. Restoration can only do so much and if it gets destroyed completely, like the one piece that was smashed, it can't be replaced.
trish | 09.18.15 @ 18:11
Oh my, the Crushed Canvas OOPS just broke my heart.
Chelsey | 09.18.15 @ 18:15
Sometimes I think what they call art is a little ridiculous. I have seen many paintings done by more modern artists where they paint four different canvases a solid shade of color then try and sell it for $10,000. Ummm hello, anybody could do that.
Jill | 09.18.15 @ 18:16
Why would the gallery let in a 12 year old with a drink? really?
Kailie | 09.18.15 @ 18:22
Oh wow... this is so sad.
Kyle | 09.18.15 @ 18:28
Wow. As someone who is an art major, this saddens me.
Jackie | 09.18.15 @ 18:52
Such tragic accidents. Although the pieces were reconstructed I would imagine they still lose value.
Andrea | 09.18.15 @ 20:56
Why would food and drinks be let in to an establishment like this? Common sense, However, if it is posted somewhere, then the parents and/or guardians should be held accountable.
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 06.17.21 @ 16:49