What If You Damaged Something in a Museum by Accident?

What If You Damaged Something in a Museum by Accident?


Have you ever visited a museum and noticed
that there doesn’t seem to be very much separating the public from the precious art or artifacts
on display? Often, it’s nothing more than a velvet rope,
and sometimes even less. What would happen if you tripped and stumbled
right into a shelf of priceless Etruscan urns? Well, they would obviously break, but what
happens to you after picking the shards of three-thousand-year-old ceramic out of your
hair? If it were me, I’d put on my most sad face,
well up some tears in my eyes, tremble my jaw just so, and with a shaky voice say to
the museum person: Um, that lady over there did it. Naw, I wouldn’t do that. I’d just go Total Urkel and say “Did I
do that?” The good news is that you don’t have to keep
wondering. Thanks to a handful of intrepid klutzes, we
now know what happens when you fall face-first onto a priceless artifact. In 2010, a young woman was attending a class
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City when she tripped and accidentally punched
a hole in a piece of priceless artwork. The painting in question was Picasso’s “The
Actor,” and was valued at 130 Million dollars right until the unnamed student opened a six-inch
gash in the canvas. One museum official described the frayed edges
as resembling the fibers of an old jute rug. At least she learned something else about
art: it’s fragile. Fortunately, the damage turned out not to
be as severe as it initially looked. The tear may have been big, but was near the
edge and far from the focus of the painting. After three months of restoration it was as
good as new. The painting went back on the wall, this time
protected by a sheet of plexiglass, just in case. So, what happened to our unsteady aspiring
art expert? First, the museum released a statement stressing
that she hadn’t been injured in the fall. Then, she went home. The museum didn’t even charge her the cost
of restoring the painting. As anticlimactic as it might be, her situation
is pretty much the norm whenever a piece of art is damaged. The absolute worst thing that happens is that
the perpetrators find themselves banned from the museum, but even that’s extremely rare. A few years before “The Actor” lost its boxing
match with the young woman, a man in Cambridge tripped over his shoelaces and completely
destroyed three irreplaceable 17th-century vases (or vah-ses) The worst that happened
to him was the museum politely asked that he not return in the near future. Even in cases where patrons were breaking
the rules, museums are hesitant to come down too hard on destructive guests. For example, in 2016, an elderly couple severely
damaged one of the exhibits at Pennsylvania’s National Watch and Clock Museum. The artifact in question was a one-of-a-kind
piece designed by the artist James Bordon. The couple, who probably should’ve known
better, began tugging on the clock’s moving parts. They wanted to see what the unusual timepiece
looked like in motion but ended up sending it crashing to the floor. I was going to make a joke about the clock
running out of time, but that might be too cheesy, even for me. As with similar incidents in other museums,
the couple was let go without so much as a stern talking to. Even selfie-takers have to go out of their
way to land themselves in hot water. In May of 2016, one adventurous self-photographer
decided he really wanted a picture of himself beside a statue of Portugal’s’ King Sebastian. Unfortunately for him, the 150-year-old sculpture
stood perched on a pedestal, several feet off the ground. Most people would settle for catching the
stone monarch in the background, but this twenty-four-year-old tourist wasn’t most people. In a stunning display of misguided determination,
he decided to scale the front of the building it was decorating on his quest for the perfect
pic. Would you care to guess what happened next? If you answered, “The statue fell down and
shattered into pieces,” you’re correct. [game show music] And you’ve won a brand
new car!… Not really. But the man in question wound up being arrested
and fined for destroying city property. While destructive selfie-takers have become
something of an epidemic, his case is an outlier. If it’d happened in a more traditional museum
setting, he might have gotten off scot-free. Pretty much anything you find in a museum
will have an insurance policy covering it. The museum might take down the reckless visitor’s
name and contact information, but that’s just for filling in the insurance paperwork. In most cases, visitors are considered guests,
meaning they won’t be held financially responsible for the damage they cause. Even museum employees usually won’t lose their
jobs over an honest mistake. A group of porters in England found this out
when they threw away what they thought was an empty box. It was later revealed to contain a painting
valued at over 120 thousand dollars. Unfortunately, that discovery was made after
the box had been fed into a crushing machine along with a pile of other waste. In 2014, something similar happed in Italy
when a janitor mistook some modern art for a pile of literal garbage. While that sounds like a joke, the “sculpture”
in question consisted of several loosely strewn pieces of cardboard and crumpled newspaper. The same thing happened again a year later
in a different Italian gallery. This time, it was a pile of bottles and confetti
that ended up decorating the inside of a trash bin. Look, museums, not to tell you how to do your
job, but maybe it’s time to start briefing the cleaning crews. What all those incidents had in common is
that the damage was unintentional. Even in cases where the accident was one hundred
percent avoidable, museums and galleries tend to take it in stride. The same is very much not the case when people
start breaking things on purpose. In 2012, a man named Andrew Shannon was visiting
a museum in Ireland when he punched a hole in a Monet painting valued at over 11 million
dollars. Shannon initially claimed it was an accident,
but between security footage and the can of paint remover found in his pocket, police
weren’t buying it. The painting was back on the wall after a
seventeen-month restoration project, but Mr. Shannon wasn’t so lucky, earning five years
in jail after his little stunt. The man responsible for destroying those vases
I mentioned earlier was actually suspected of the same thing. The museum initially brushed it off as an
unfortunate accident and even kept his name, which was Nick Flynn, out of their official
statement to the press. However, people got suspicious when Mr. Flynn
started giving interviews and really seemed to be relishing his fifteen minutes of fame. Detectives ultimately cleared him of wrongdoing,
but only after he spent a night in police custody. The lesson here is that if you ever destroy
a priceless artifact, try not to seem too happy about it. All of this still leaves this big question
to be answered, why don’t museums take stronger steps to protect the items in their care? If the New York Met can put a painting behind
Plexiglas, why can’t everyone do that all the time? There are two main reasons for this apparent
lack of security. Firstly, many feel that these kinds of precautions
get in the way of properly experiencing the art on display. The other reason is money. Securing every single exhibit is so expensive
that many museums don’t feel like it’s worth the cost. Incidents like I’ve described today are incredibly
rare, and private museums often struggle financially. While cultural touchstones like the Mona Lisa
and Michelangelo’s David are valuable enough to warrant extra precautions, it’s just
not practical to treat every piece of art with that level of security. So a word to the wise. If you go to a museum, be careful. Great works of art can endure for centuries,
and future generations will be grateful there aren’t too many holes in our cultural heritage. Unless it was on purpose, you probably wouldn’t
get in any real trouble, but even minor damage can take months, or even years, to repair
fully. But hey, if you do, don’t feel too bad. No one is perfect after all, and we’ve all
had moments of clumsiness over the years. I mean, who am I to judge? I um…destroyed seventeen priceless Ming
vases just while making this video. In my defense, it was very dark in the studio
that morning. (Hey, who told?) What’s the worst thing you ever broke? Let me know in the comments. And hey, if you learned something new today,
then give this video a like and share it with a friend. But don’t go breaking my heart, or anything
else just yet! We have over 2,000 cool videos for you to
check out. Just click on this left or right video and
enjoy! Stay on the Bright Side of life!

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