Blown up Buddha’s, decapitated statues, slashed and scratched-out eyes in paintings. Destructive and violent attacks on works of art are unfortunately nothing new. Sometimes politically motivated or as a gesture for a cause but all too often they can still seem precipitated by an irrational hatred.
Earlier this week a 51 year old man Maximo Caminero was charged in Florida after picking up a vase valued at $1m at an Ai Weiwei exhibition and dropping it on the floor. The man is himself an artist and claimed it was a spontaneous act to protest at the lack of exposure for local artists work in the Miami gallery. He was suddenly impelled he said to mimic Ai Weiwei’s own destruction, recorded on video, of a Han Dynasty Urn. The renowned Chinese artist when told of the destruction made clear that he owned the vase that he chose to destroy. He in no way condoned random acts of destruction on other works of art.
Sadly attacks like this are not isolated and are common enough. Last month a man in Ireland was questioned by police for allegedly damaging two paintings on display in Dublin’s prestigious Shelbourne Hotel. The man is already facing trial for a similar incident in which he allegedly punched a hole in a Monet painting valued at $10m in the National Gallery of Ireland in June 2012.
Various works of art including the most famous of paintings the Mona Lisa has been violated on numerous occasions. It has suffered an acid attack, had rocks thrown at it and even a mug flung at it. Exactly a hundred years ago on March 10th 1914 the Rockeby Venus by Velazquez was slashed several times by a Canadian woman Mary Richardson in support of the Suffragette movement.
It should not be forgotten too that artists themselves often destroy their own progeny. Part of the reason for the current exalted prices for Francis Bacon paintings is the limited quantity that he allowed into the public domain. He destroyed all his early work as he deemed it to be of inferior quality and not of value.
In perhaps the ultimate act of destruction the artist Michael Landy meticulously and assiduously employed a factory production line to destroy all he ever possessed in full public view in the window of a former department store on Oxford Street in London. The exhibition titled, perhaps revealingly, Break Down was meant to be regarded as an artistic act by Michael Landy.
But the slashing of paintings has a visceral provocative quality akin to the burning of books. Should galleries employ more belligerent and unfriendly methods in displaying art? To do so would perhaps only elicit more conspicuous attacks.