Mu­seum selfie gone wrong a crown­ing achieve­ment of the genre

Royal headgear hits the floor af­ter pho­tog­ra­pher knocks into art show pedestals


In the hall of fame of selfie no-no’s, it might be time to crown the Babe Ruth.

Si­mon Birch, a Bri­tish mul­ti­me­dia artist based in Hong Kong, has been dis­play­ing his lat­est im­mer­sive ex­hi­bi­tion at the 14th Fac­tory pop-up gallery in Los An­ge­les.

In one room were placed a se­ries of crowns on pedestals of vary­ing heights — all very close to one another. They were the very def­i­ni­tion of selfie bait.

So it was per­haps no sur­prise that a woman two weeks ago would get a bit too close to the art and, mid-selfie, lose her bal­ance, send­ing pedestals and crowns crash­ing in a cas­cad­ing domino ef­fect. Dam­age es­ti­mate: Roughly $200,000 (U.S.), ac­cord­ing to Birch.

A video of the in­ci­dent, up­loaded Thurs­day, has racked up nearly 300,000 views.

It is pos­si­ble this was staged. The video was up­loaded by some­one who claims to know Birch and its de­scrip­tion ends with a plug: “The rest of The 14th Fac­tory is one of its kind . . . go visit be­fore it closes end of July (or be­fore a few more pieces break).”

But in an email, Birch said it was a true ac­ci­dent.

Still, he said, he would not be putting signs up urg­ing vis­i­tors to be care­ful.

“We trust peo­ple,” Birch said. “Crowns are frag­ile things. They are sym­bols of power. Per­haps it’s ironic and mean­ing­ful that they fell.”

Mu­seum self­ies have be­come a thing and are even en­cour­aged by some mu­se­ums to draw younger vis­i­tors. There are en­tire blogs ded­i­cated to mu­seum self­ies.

Mu­seum Hack, which gives quirky, un­of­fi­cial tours of ma­jor mu­se­ums around the coun­try, says on its web­site, “Mu­seum self­ies are an awe­some way to en­gage au­di­ences with your mu­seum and col­lec­tions.”

Lisa Krass­ner, chief mem­ber and vis­i­tor ser­vices of­fi­cer for the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York, said, “Vis­i­tors are here to en­joy our col­lec­tion and ex­hi­bi­tions and the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence, and we wel­come in­di­vid­u­als cap­tur­ing and shar­ing that ex­pe­ri­ence through pho­tog­ra­phy — as long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t en­dan­ger the art or in­ter­fere with the ex­pe­ri­ence of oth­ers.”

(Mu­seum of­fi­cials are not as em­brac­ing of the selfie stick, which some, in­clud­ing the Met, have banned.)

Our Los An­ge­les woman is hardly alone in the an­nals of the self­ieclumsy. At the “Yayoi Kusama: In­fin­ity Mir­rors” ex­hi­bi­tion at the Hir­sh­horn Mu­seum and Sculp­ture Gar­den in Wash­ing­ton, a huge hit fea­tur­ing im­mer­sive mir­rors, a pa­tron caused $800,000 in dam­age af­ter shat­ter­ing a glow­ing LED pump­kin in Fe­bru­ary.

In 2015, in Cre­mona, a city in north­ern Italy, a sculp­ture — “Statue of the Two Her­cules,” carved more than 300 years ago — was par­tially shat­tered thanks to a pair of self-pho­tog­ra­phers.

In these cases, the selfie-tak­ers dam­aged the art. In other cases, the art has dam­aged the selfie-taker. In 2014, a U.S. stu­dent, on a dare, de­cided to take a pho­to­graph from in­side a 32-ton sculp­ture in the shape of a vagina at Tub­in­gen Univer­sity in Ger­many. He got stuck. Fire­fight­ers got a call to res­cue a man “stuck in a stone vulva.”

In other in­stances that didn’t go well for the art: At the Acad­emy of Fine Arts of Br­era in Milan, also in 2014, a stu­dent de­cided to climb a sculp­ture from the early 1800s that was a copy of an an­cient Greek sculp­ture, “Drunken Satyr.” The statue’s left leg fell off.

Last year, in Lis­bon, a tourist in his mid-20s climbed a train sta­tion to take a selfie with a statue of Dom Se­bas­tiao, a16th-cen­tury king in Por­tu­gal. The statue crashed and shat­tered, and he was ar­rested and charged with de­struc­tion of pub­lic prop­erty.

We could go on but won’t. Ad­vice for selfie-seek­ing mu­seum go­ers: keep your dis­tance — the likes will come any­way.

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