When news spread that a guard at a Russian art gallery had vandalised an expensive avant-garde painting by drawing eyes on it, it drew both giggles and groans.
Using a ballpoint pen, the man – apparently bored on his first day on the job – doodled on the 1930s painting Three Figures, by Anna Leporskaya, that was insured for 75 million roubles (S$1.3 million).
It’s one of many red-faced moments – some accidental, others intentional – that the art world has seen. Here are some other examples:
In 2012 , a 12-year-old boy visiting the Huashan 1914 Creative Park in Taipei, Taiwan, was holding a drink when he stumbled and fell, leaving a fist-sized hole in a 17th century Italian oil painting titled Flowers.
The still life, which the exhibitors then valued at US$1.5 million (S$482,000), was owned by a private collector, who did not ask the boy’s family to pay for the restoration costs. A video of the incident has racked up more than 12 million views.
Also in 2012 , Andrew Shannon punched a hole through a US$10 million Claude Monet painting, Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat (1874). The incident took place in front of stunned art lovers at the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin.
Shannon, who spent nearly five years in prison for the crime, claimed he felt faint and fell onto the masterpiece, but CCTV footage showed him deliberately punching the artwork. The piece was back on display in 2014 after a meticulous 18-month-long restoration.
A pop-up exhibition in Los Angeles by Simon Birch, a British-born artist who called Hong Kong home for many years, made headlines in 2017 when a woman crouched in front of a stand to have a photo taken, only to knock it over and send artwork toppling like dominoes.
In a YouTube post of the incident, it was reported that US$200,000 damage was caused, but some viewers claim it was a publicity stunt .
One of the most talked about gallery blunders took place at London’s Tate Modern in 2004 when a cleaner threw away a bin liner filled with waste paper that was part of a piece by German artist Gustav Metzger.
It’s not the only time contemporary art has literally been trashed. In 2001 , British media reported that an installation comprising coffee cups and overflowing ashtrays by British artist Damien Hirst , on display at London’s Eyestorm Gallery, was binned by a cleaner.
In 2014 a Chinese painting, Snowy Mountain, by Cui Ruzhuo, sold at auction in Hong Kong for HK$28.75 million was inadvertently thrown away by hotel staff soon after going under the hammer .
More recently, in 2021 a couple in Seoul, South Korea, mistakenly thought they were allowed to daub paint on a finished piece of graffiti art, thinking it was “participatory art”.
The 240cm by 700cm untitled piece, estimated to be worth about US$400,000, was by US graffiti artist JonOne.
The South Korean couple, who are in their 20s, saw paint and brushes on show in front of the artwork and assumed it was an interactive piece.
This article was first published in South China Morning Post.