Thu, Jan 31, 2008 - Page 15 News List

[ART JOURNAL] Unlucky 13

Las Vegas casino king Steve Wynn accidentally put his elbow through his US$139 million Picasso. But who stabbed a Rembrandt? And why was a Rodin sculpture blown up? These artworks have suffered all sorts of indignity

By John Hind  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

The Rokeby Venus by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez.

PHOTO: EPA

1. PABLO PICASSO GOES POP!

One day after informing them he'd just agreed to sell Le Reve for a record US$139 million to a hedge fund manager, Las Vegas casino kingpin Steve Wynn invited guests to view it in his office. While explaining the painting's provenance, he put his elbow through it, exclaiming: "Oh no, oh shit!"

A conservator charged US$90,500 for rissverklebung (thread reintegration) and then Wynn put in a claim to Lloyds for US$54 million, based on a post-restoration valuation of US$85 million. "Picasso used the cheapest thin canvas - and it went 'Pop!' like shrink-wrap," noted Wynn. I almost made the biggest mistake of my life selling that painting, but I got lucky and poked a hole in it.'

2. DIEGO VELAZQUEZ GETS SLASHED

After repeatedly slashing the naked back of the woman in the Rokeby Venus at London's National Gallery in 1914, suffragette Mary Richardson explained: "I tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst. Justice is as much an element of beauty as color and outline." Thirty-eight years later she gave a different explanation for her actions: "I didn't like the way men gaped at it all day long." In 1918 three suffragists attacked 13 paintings in Manchester City Art Gallery with hammers - three of the works were by Victorian painter George Frederic Watts, the worst damaged being his Prayer.

3. RODIN IS DYNAMITED

In 1970 one of Auguste Rodin's original casts of his world-famous sculpture The Thinker, situated outside the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, was dynamited by members of the radical group The Weathermen, who later accidentally blew themselves up. The lower parts of the legs of The Thinker were annihilated, its base expanded, twisted and contorted. Since the decision was made to re-mount it in its damaged form, a generation has grown up in Cleveland believing that the sculpture was conceived that way by Rodin. At Tate Britain in 2003 Rodin's The Kiss was (with permission) wrapped in a mile of string by artist Cornelia Parker, prompting outraged artist Piers Butler to cut the string.

4. MONDRIAN IS VOMITED ON

The head conservator at New York's Moma says that decisions to undertake restoration, such as pigment work-ups, are often based on whether the thrill has gone from a painting. Similar motivation was claimed by artist Jubal Brown, who ate blue cake icing and blue Jell-O before entering Moma in order to projectile vomit on to Piet Mondrian's Composition With Red and Blue - to liven it up. "I found its lifelessness threatening," said Brown who had months earlier vomited red onto Raoul Dufy's Harbour at le Havre in the Art Gallery of Ontario, where the head conservator said: "Fingerprints can be much more difficult. Touching - of abstracts especially - is chronic here."

5. REMBRANDT IS SLASHED, SLASHED AGAIN AND THEN SPRAYED WITH ACID

The Nightwatch holds the dubious honor of being attacked three times in Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum. In 1911 an ex-navy chef, disgruntled by discharge and considering it the state's most valuable possession, attacked it with a knife "to cool my anger." In 1975 an unemployed teacher, declaring "Jesus sent me," slashed it repeatedly, later explaining: "Rembrandt was the master of light, but when he painted The Nightwatch he was under the influence of the dark." In 1990 an escaped psychiatric patient sprayed sulfuric acid on it. Released nine years later, the same attacker cut a large circular hole in Picasso's painting Nude in Front of the Garden.

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