AMMAN – All the art museums and galleries in the world share one thing in common, they like to keep physical proximities between artwork and viewers at an optimum minimum. When touching an artwork or display is encouraged, most visitors do so very carefully. Others do not. The latter group is the subject of our Halloween spooky special this year.

We read into the horrific stories of gallery and museum visits gone wrong and compiled a list of the worst (simultaneously the best) and funniest of the art world’s horror stories:

The Selfie Takers:

In 2017, it was reported that a staggering 259 people across the globe lost their lives to taking selfies. There are not many reports on the number of works of art ruined by the same action, but there are a few documented stories:

Domino Effect:

A selfie taker caused around $200,000 worth of damages when she accidentally bumped into a pedestal carrying a sculpture of a crown in 2017. The pedestal fell causing the entire row of other pedestals behind it to fall in a domino effect as well.

Achilles Heel:

Broken replica of Drunken Satyr sculpture Academy of Fine Arts of Brera, image courtesy of Time.

In 2014, a student visiting the Academy of Fine Arts of Brera in Milan, hopped on the lap of a Satyr sculpture in the hopes of finding the best selfie angle and broke its left leg to pieces. Luckily for the student, the sculpture was only a 19th-century plaster replica of the original Hellenistic-era piece.

Surreal Selfie:

Last year, a group of four girls taking a selfie bumped into a temporary wall at a Russian gallery and knocked it down. The wall had two pieces by Salvador Dali and Francisco Goya hanging on its back. Both works of art suffered broken frames, glass and minor damages.

All the Eternal Love I Have For Expensive Pumpkins:

Yayoi Kusama, All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins, Oct 1, 2017 – Apr 29, 2018, Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.

In 2017, a visitor of Yayoi Kusama‘s All the Eternal Love I Have for the Pumpkins infinity room at Washington DC’s Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, was distracted by his phone screen and accidentally hit and broke one of the ceramic pumpkins inside the installation with his foot only several days after the exhibition opened to the public. Just for scale, in 2015 a four-foot polka dotted pumpkin by Kusama was sold at an auction for $784,485.


We are all prone to being a little clumsy at times, but for these people, their clumsiness came a multi million dollar cost:

Tripping and Falling:

In 2015, a Taiwanese boy lost his balance at an art museum, fell and accidentally punctured a hole inside a $1.5 million painting by Paolo Porpora.

See Cy Twombly Tumbble:

The fallen Untitled by Cy Twombly as seen on John Hovig’s facebook feed.

A museum-goer accidentally bumped into a Cy Twombly sculpture at a Texas museum in 2015 and caused it to fall down and break its top half in the process. The incident was captured by Huston-based artist John Hovig who posted a picture on his facebook.

The Torn Actor:

Pablo Picasso, The Actor, Oil on Canvas, 196x115cm, 1904, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, image courtesy of wikipedia.

A woman attending an art lesson at the Met Museum in 2010 lost her balance and fell on The Actor, a 1904 painting by Pablo Picasso. The fall caused a 15 cm tear on the bottom right corner of the painting. The work was restored and put back on display soon afterwards.

Undeliberately Deliberate:

It can be argued that all the previous incidents were accidental, the following acts may not have been as innocent:

Punch a Painting:

Monet, Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat, Oil on Canvas, 55 x 65 cm, 1874, National Gallery of Ireland. Courtesy of artnet.

In 2012, a man was jailed after punching a $10 million Monet entitled Argenteuil Basin with a Single Sailboat at the National Gallery in Ireland. The painting later undertook an 18-month restoration period before going back on display. Ever wanted to punch a painting? Well, a fan website of the incident was created for people to join in on the fun.

“Jesus Christ!”:

Ecce Homo by Elías García Martínez before and after restoration attempt.

The best spook is left as our final spook. This viral restoration of a 19th-century Jesus Christ fresco will leave you exclaiming just that. A fresco by Elías García Martínez was destroyed by a Spanish local in her 80’s who took it upon herself to ‘restore’ the painting claiming it to be her favourite depiction of Jesus Christ in town. The case was of suspected vandalism until the elderly woman claimed responsibility for the disfiguration. The restored version became something of an internet meme sensation, prompting cyber trolls to edit the face of Ecce Homo into other paintings for fun. Yikes. 

They say that comedy is tragedy plus time. But in this list of the art world’s best and worst horror stories, we are sure that the comedy was found within the tragedy itself. Stay safe at museums and galleries, and always ask for assistance if you need anything.

Liked what you read? Read more of art history’s most sinister paintings and sculptures on artmejournal.

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All images courtesy indicated in captions.