Mu­seum mishaps: worst fears of vis­i­tors

Se­ri­ous dam­age done by the clumsy, writes LEANNE ITALIE

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - LIFE -

ATRIP here. A mis­placed el­bow there. The stum­bling art stu­dent who tore a Pi­casso tapped into the worst fears of clumsy grown-ups and ev­ery wellinten­tioned par­ent who dares ven­ture into big-peo­ple mu­se­ums with small chil­dren.

Signs de­mand­ing “DO NOT TOUCH” don’t mean much when ac­ci­dents hap­pen, es­pe­cially when the cul­prits aren’t old enough to read, but are small enough – and antsy enough – to dash through bar­ri­ers.

The Mo­ment for Julee Mor­ri­son of Tay­lorsville, Utah, came at Elvis Pres­ley’s Grace­land, a huge at­trac­tion in Mem­phis, Ten­nessee, with more than 600 000 vis­i­tors a year.

All she wanted to do was feed her then­four-year-old son’s in­ter­est in the King.

The boy was re­gal­ing his fam­ily with fun facts when his lit­tle brother dis­ap­peared.

“We were in line at the gravesite when I glanced around and there on top of Elvis’s grave was my 18-month-old.

“He had squeezed through the rod-iron gate. I was hor­ri­fied!” she said.

Mor­ri­son was too big to fol­low him, re­sort­ing to crack­ers as a bribe to get him in her clutches. “Eyes were burn­ing on my neck.”

On the same three-week, cross-coun­try trip, her lit­tle es­cape artist climbed over faux boul­ders to get to a di­nosaur at a mu­seum.

“I bent over to tie my four-year old’s shoe. When I stood up, Zac had scaled the boul­ders and headed into the exhibit to touch the di­nosaur,” she said.

Po­litely worded rules for kids and adults on how to avoid dam­ag­ing some­times price­less work are plas­tered on mu­seum web­sites, es­pe­cially those that have opened their doors to splashy, crowd­pleas­ing ex­hi­bi­tions, spe­cial events that some­times in­clude al­co­hol ser­vice – and tipsy guests – and art ap­pre­ci­a­tion classes for young and old.

The woman who lost her bal­ance and fell onto Pi­casso’s The Ac­tor at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art re­cently was at­tend­ing an art class when she stum­bled.

The mu­seum’s di­rec­tor, Thomas P Camp­bell, is pur­su­ing a re­view of poli­cies and pro­ce­dures in the af­ter­math of the 15cm tear that re­stor­ers will re­pair.

While near misses are more com­mon than di­rect hits, se­ri­ous dam­age has been done by the clumsy.

In 2008, a 2.75m-tall ce­ramic totem by Costa Ri­can artist Ta­tiana Echev­erri Fer­nan­dez and on view at the Royal Academy of Arts in Lon­don broke into pieces af­ter a vis­i­tor tripped into it.

Two years prior, at the Fitzwilliam Mu­seum in Cam­bridge, a man who had bent over to tie his shoes tripped over a lace and fell down a flight of stairs into a nearly 45kg Qing Dy­nasty vase and two oth­ers dat­ing from the late 17th cen­tury or early 18th cen­tury.

The vase was left in 113 pieces that were put back to­gether, but its value was se­ri­ously com­pro­mised.

“I snagged my shoelace, missed the step and crash, bang, wal­lop – there were a mil­lion pieces of high-qual­ity Qing ce­ram­ics ly­ing around un­der­neath me,” Nick Flynn said at the time.

Steve Wynn knows the feel­ing. The casino mogul was about to sell Pi­casso’s Le Reve for $139 mil­lion in 2006 when he el­bowed the work while show­ing it to friends, pok­ing a thumb-size hole through the can­vas.

The por­trait of a Pi­casso mis­tress was re­paired and Wynn de­cided to keep it.

“We have near misses ev­ery day,” said Michelle A Lehrman Jen­ness, se­cu­rity chief at the Art In­sti­tute of Chicago.

“The of­fi­cers are trained in read­ing body lan­guage. If some­body is wav­ing around a brochure, point­ing at a paint­ing, for in­stance, we’ll ask them to step back be­fore any­thing hap­pens.”

Rope bar­ri­ers were child’s play for Alan Han­cock’s then two-year-old dur­ing a visit to the Fairchild Trop­i­cal Botanic Gar­den in Mi­ami. He had taken his kids there for a look at the glass work of Dale Chi­huly that proved a lit­tle too en­tic­ing.

“In­side one of the green­houses, he went un­der the ropes. He was a step or two from touch­ing the glass be­fore I was able to grab him and pull him away,” said Han­cock. – Sapa-AP

TORN: Pi­casso’s

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