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.