Everytime I walk around a museum, narrowly edging my body through rooms crammed with priceless works of art, my palms are always drenched with sweat in the fear that my usual bumbling antics would arise and result in the accidental destruction of rare cultural gems which would leave me millions of dollars in debt.
Or so, that is what most people would assume if anyone damages a relic in a museum since we more or less know people who have accidentally broke something in a store and were asked to pay for it, we assumed the same practice applies especially when artifacts from a museum are worth their weight in gold, or more.
So, if you are a clumsy, graceless, maladroit idiot who trips over a flat surface for no rhyme or reason like I do ALL the time, the thought of what really happens if you accidentally damage an irreplaceable priceless piece of art have probably popped up in your brain several times.
In actual fact, nothing really much happens. You can breathe a sigh of relief as we explain why and pull up some examples of real-life occurrences.
It would be a real shame if someone knocked over Athens' most sacred objects – the caryatids that have survived for several millenniums
Museums and galleries will almost always have insurance that covers any such damages. Furthermore, with artifacts haphazardly stacked on teetering pedestals and art pieces preening at you without the protection of any form of barricade, the people running the museums understand that accidents are bound to happen.
In nearly every case found where a piece of artwork was unintentionally damaged, no charges were pressed or compensations demanded by either the museum or the owner of the object in question. It seems that the worse case scenario is simply the lifelong embarrassment you have to live with and being banned from the museum.
The Qing dynasty vases that were knocked over
One such case involved Nick Flynn, a man who tripped over his shoelace while walking around the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and knocked over three 17th century vases worth about £175,000 (S$310,000) in 2006.
“I snagged my shoelace, missed the step and crash, bang, wallop. There were a million pieces of high quality Qing ceramics lying around underneath me… Although [I knew] the vase would break I didn’t imagine it would be loose and crash into the other two. I’m sure I only hit the first one and that must have flown across the windowsill and hit the next one, which then hit the other, like a set of dominos. I can say with my hand on my heart that it was not deliberate … it was just my Norman Wisdom moment, just one of those unbelievably unlucky things that can sometimes happen,” Flynn said of the cringe-worthy experience.
Repairing the vases
The museum official’s response was to send Flynn a letter politely advising him “not to visit the museum again in the near future.” It wasn’t even a ban, it was just a suggestion for Flynn to refrain from visiting temporarily.
In fact, the museum had the decency of keeping Flynn’s identity under wraps too, to save him further embarrassment of being THAT GUY who destroyed three one-of-a-kind historical pieces simultaneously in his little rendezvous with the museum floor. Flynn’s identity was only revealed after British tabloids did some sleuthing and tracked him down.
Another example dated back only two years ago, in 2015 in a Taiwanese art exhibition. A 12 year old boy was shuffling past a painting, tripped over a platform that was ironically placed there to prevent people from getting too close, instinctively shot his hand out to steady himself against the nearest object and ended up puncturing a hole through a 350 year old painting, Flowers, by Paolo Porpora. Check out the disastrous moment it happened in the video just down below.
The organizers of the exhibition were quick to reassure the boy and his family that they would not be liable to pay any damages nor in any trouble legally. In fact, one of the organizers, Sun Chi-Huan, publicly announced that the boy wasn’t to blame.
“Nabei, why you tear my painting sial?”
In yet another terrible mishap, an unnamed young woman damaged a F*CKING $130,000,000 (S$180,650,600 a.k.a. WAAAAAAY MORE THAN MY WHAT MY LIFE IS WORTH) Picasso painting labelled The Actor by falling into it during an art class. There was a blasphemous six inch tear in the bottom right corner. However, the thoughtful museum officials seemed more concerned with the woman’s physical well-being than the painting which can be sold to feed an entire third-world country. They were more concerned with reporting that the woman was uninjured than the fact that her face-planting accident had obliterated almost half of the painting’s value.
So it's all good if you accidentally trip over your own two feet and go careening into historical treasures in museums. However, we cannot ascertain that museums located in third world countries notorious for corruption will let you off as easily though. Tread lightly if you ever do visit museums in countries infamous for its dodgy officials.
Hi, I'm Cheryl. I possess a joie de vivre spirit unique to my character, my expressions of euphoria are wild in nature and I approach life like one colossal party. I love venturing into the unknown and exploring all that is possible; from exotic foods to cliff-diving. When I am not seeking out something extraordinary to check off my bucket list, I love curling up on a comfy couch with a glass of wine and a book in hand. Follow my personal adventures in my blog here where I let loose of all inhibitions, voice my inner-most emotions, exult in all that is wonderful, unleash the monsters within, lose myself in beautiful reveries, reminisce treasured memories and curate recherché experiences.