Sunday, February 25, 2024

Art at Risk in Museums

No question that theft is a risk to art in a museum. Just put the word ‘theft’ in the search engine on the Missives’ site and you will find a lot of articles on both theft from outsiders and staff as well.

In recent times we have the protesters who have decided that the best way to get attention is to splatter soup or paint on a famous work of art. These pieces are usually protected behind glass so the damage to the actual work of art is minimal … but not necessarily.

Vandalism isn’t new and a half century ago two great masterpieces were vandalized. In 1972 an unemployed geologist took a hammer to Michelangelo’s Pieta, and in 1975 Rembrandt’s Night Watch was slashed by a man who said he was sent by the Lord. (Image of the Pieta and then Rembrandt)

Serious damage can occur without vandalism. In 2002 the pedestal holding a life-size statue of Adam carved by Tullio Lombardo (1455-1532), an important Renaissance sculpture given pride of place in the Metropolitan Museum, collapsed. The accident happened after hours, and security cameras recorded that there was no human interference. The marble fell and broke into so many fragments that 12 years of restoration work were necessary for the sculpture to be put together again and go on view. To learn more:

When there are losses, you can always count on an insurance company waiting in the wings and this is where my idea for this Missive originated. In an article on Artnet on February 14, 2024 Jamie Valentino cited the report of Hiscox, a well-known insurance company in the art world that “an unexpected danger is keeping art museum on high alert”, and termed it a “pandemic”. Not men with guns and ski masks but rather the museum visitors taking selfies!

In 2022 The Spanish press reported an example of the newest hazard: an Italian tourist tripped while attempting to take a selfie in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid. As she fell she grabbed hold of a piece of the wallpaper which was part of a Ballet set done in 1933 by Alberto SÃ¥nchez.

The British Museum is just one of the many institutions around the world that are taking note by including in its official Visitor Regulations “The use of ‘selfie sticks’ (or similar devices) is not permitted within the Museum.”

In Hyperallergic Sara Rose Sharp reported the advice of Laura Doyle, senior vice president of Fine Art at the Chubb insurance company, that private collectors who lend pieces to museums should ask about how objects will be displayed and protected. “We also recommend that protective glazing (glass or plexi covering a work) be added in some cases to help prevent accidental surface damage, such as from selfie sticks and other similar items,”

The illustration below for the Hyperallergic article that cites “visitors more focused on stunting for the ‘gram than having an ecstatic art experience” is captioned "God, please, can't you see I'm busy right now?"

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