Darned cheek: the 19th century Narcissus with the vandalism exposed on his buttock. The 19th century Narcissus with the vandalism exposed on his buttock.
It probably seemed like an innocent peck on the cheek. But the Art Gallery of NSW took a dim view of the visitor who kissed a 19th-century statue of Narcissus with red lipstick, leaving a large stain on its buttock.
”Vandalised” was the word used to describe the kiss, which occurred in January 2012, one week after another visitor pulled the nose off a statue of a clown by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone.
In another attack in June 2013, an 11th-century sandstone sculpture of a female torso was spat on.
These acts of vandalism are among 89 reported incidents of damage to artworks at the Art Gallery of NSW over the past three years.
Documents obtained by Fairfax Media following a freedom of information request show that works in the gallery’s collection have been vandalised by visitors, damaged by staff and harmed during functions held at NSW’s leading public art institution.
At a function in May 2013, a painting by indigenous artist Emily Kam Ngwarray was splashed with food, according to the incident report:
”A tomato canape wielding visitor lost control of her topping, which flew across the barriers in front of the work … Several dried droplets of red material were located on the work at the lower edge right of centre.”
The report stated there was no apparent damage to the painting but noted that it was possible that not all the spilt food had been removed.
An incident report relating to Cy Twombly’s Three Studies from the Temeraire, for which the gallery paid $4.5 million in 2004, stated it had been damaged on display and noted the presence of ”surface dirt”.
Damage to paintings by Brett Whiteley and Picasso, in both cases by children, were also reported.
Whiteley’s The Balcony 2 was ”touched by [a] boy who left a palm print in the dusty surface of the painting,” according to a February 2013 report. In November 2013, it was reported that the frame surrounding Picasso’s Nude in a Rocking Chair was ”probably scratched accidentally by a child, not by an adult”.
The gallery’s director of collections, Suhanya Raffel, said most of the 1.3 million who visited the gallery each year respected and enjoyed the collection. ”The majority of visitor incidents are fairly minor, accidental and not malicious – often the result of curiosity, which we do not consider as vandalism,” she said.
Sydney College of the Arts dean Colin Rhodes said the best way to protect artworks would be to have a guard in every room of the gallery.
”A human presence who is looking after the space, that’s easily the best way of doing things,” he said. ”The trouble with cameras is they might catch everything, but it’s after the event.”
However, excessive security risked alienating visitors. ”Art is made for people to enjoy. The further away it is from an audience, the less easy it is for them to enjoy and understand,” Professor Rhodes said.
In Victoria, the NGV last year admitted a 2000-year-old statue from its collection was damaged when it was dropped from a forklift. It has also admitted that one of its new acquisitions, a glass bauble-encrusted stuffed deer, had overheated in its front window.
The Roman marble figure from the first century BC, Archaistic Kore, believed to be valued at $1 million to $2 million, was dropped and smashed while it was being moved.
Artworks at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra have also been vandalised and damaged by staff, with 23 incidents reported in 2012 and 2013.
Among the artworks damaged were paintings by Fred Williams, Roy Lichtenstein and Arthur Boyd. Several sculptures in the gallery’s collection were vandalised with graffiti, including one that had ”Josh Latif Rules” scratched into it.
An NGA spokesman said risk assessments were carried out on how to display art, but the gallery had no plans to beef up security.
Gallery staff and catering contractors at the Art Gallery of NSW have also caused serious damage to artworks.
In May 2011, a gallery painter driving a forklift ”knocked” a table that then hit the installation Turns in Arabba by Hany Armanious, who represented Australia at the 2011 Venice Biennale.
”Many objects fell over resulting in damage to 14 components as well as damage to the wooden cabinet,” the report noted.
Several artworks have been damaged when falling off the walls of the Art Gallery of NSW after the failure of velcro hanging mechanisms.
Human error was identified in several reports, such as an April 2012 incident relating to Nam June Paik’s Kaldor Candle. The report criticised gallery staff.
”Without proper instructions or approval for treating the artwork, installation staff removed wax residue from the horizontal TV screens using metal scrapers, a commercial spray, adhesive remover and cloths,” the report said. ”The curator had not directed them to do so, nor did they seek advice from conservation prior to cleaning.”
Similarly, the lid of a 19th-century ivory vase was dropped ”during a hasty deinstallation”, according to a 2012 report. Another artwork was damaged after it was installed upside down and displayed in the wrong position for ”a few weeks”.
But Ms Raffel said damage caused to artworks by staff was rare.
”In the period of the three years we had 89 incidents, of which only five were related to staff,” she said. ”Our gallery staff have moved thousands of artworks in that three-year period.”
Ms Raffel said it was rarely possible to calculate the cost of damage to artworks as repairs were conducted in house. Moving artworks and erecting barriers to keep visitors at a distance were among the actions taken to protect the collection.
The Art Gallery of NSW is a venue-for-hire for corporate events and hosts functions at which food and alcohol are served. But champagne, canapes and canvases do not always mix.
At a function in May 2013, a bag of ice fell off a trolley, splashing water onto Peter Powditch’s Seascape II painting. The incident report noted an extensive number of stains on the work and suggested that the ”placement of a painting outside the lift on ground level may not be a safe position for a large-scale work”.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.