Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

(gif by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic via Central News Agency/YouTube)

A trip to an art exhibition in Taipei ended in a less-than-ideal manner for a 12-year-old boy, who tripped and broke his fall by sticking his fist through a painting — thereby realizing everyone’s worst museum-related nightmare. On Sunday, while touring a show titled The Face of Leonardo, Images of Genius at Huashan 1914 Creative Park, the young visitor tripped over a rope barrier and toppled, hands first, into a Paolo Porpora painting titled “Flowers,” as Focus Taiwan reported.

Surveillance video footage captured the cringe-worthy incident, which occurred on Sunday, in its entirety: witness the boy enjoying a beverage as he roams the gallery and sidles along to the Porpora, gazing in the opposite direction, completely unaware of the presence of the barrier guarding the 350-year-old oil painting. He makes contact, stumbles, and — honestly, does what anyone would do out of instinct — extends his arms to break his fall. Our tragic protagonist then steadies himself (drink still in hand, with not a drop spilled!) and looks around in a daze before a docent guides him away, leaving behind a group of astonished visitors and a teen-fist-sized hole in the canvas.

According to the exhibition’s organizers, the painting is valued at over $1.5m, but his family will not have to cover the cost of restoration. The work, however, may be permanently damaged, according to a post on the exhibition’s Facebook page.

“All 55 paintings in the venue are authentic pieces and they are very rare and precious,” the post read, as reported by the Telegraph. “Once these works are damaged, they are permanently damaged.”

As a pretty cruel form of punishment, the boy was also banned from all the center’s galleries. According to the Telegraph, he is claiming that he collapsed from a heart condition. It’s uncertain whether the damage does stem from unstable internal organs or actually just unsteady footing, but at least the youth refrained from urinating on the work.

This week is shaping up to be a tough one for art: the Israel Museum noted, also on Sunday, that a young girl broke an ancient vessel dating to the Roman period. According to a museum employee, she had clung to its display case, causing it to topple and break along an existing crack. Rather than admonishing her, however, museum officials instead expressed their gratitude, stating that after its repair it is now in a better shape since it gave them the opportunity to fix the crack that was there before the accident.

Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE, Gothamist, Artnews, Smithsonian Magazine,...

18 replies on “Soda-Swigging Schoolkid Punches Hole in 17th-Century Painting”

  1. This is one of the most idiotic incidents of damage to a valuable artwork in an art museum I can recall seeing:first of all…why is the valuable artwork being exhibited “on the floor”,and second of all…what responsible art museum allows visitors to bring drinks and food into art exhibit areas?!

    1. Trip wire indeed, I remember when I worked as a museum guard, a co-worker was just in time to jump in between the rope and a Raphael to catch a visitor
      who tripped over the rope and would have fallen headfirst into the painting.
      The big problem is that better protection, equals a worse viewing experience especialy for nearsighted people and painters who
      want to studie the brushstroke etc.

  2. I think a little piece of me just died after seeing this.

    *rant alert*

    Its bad enough that ISIS or whatever-the-hell they’re calling themselves this week is killing people and destroying art and sites whose individual worth is far greater than their crappy, hateful souls collectively in war-torn regions, but to see a priceless work of art being manhandled by a clumsy kid with snacks makes me question the sanity of the museum’s staff where this took place?!

    I wonder how this kid’s parents ever thought he would want to come to an exhibit like this in the first place? Shame on them all! Most of all it boggles my mind that this could happen in a nation where I’d have assumed it would be much safer than some fly-blown backwater war zone.

    *end rant*

    1. Relax. A kid tripped and fell into a minor painting. Honestly, I don’t even really blame him. He was milling around in a large tour group and he was probably relaxed in his feeling that he wasn’t near the wall or paintings. The wire he tripped over wasn’t even in his field of view. It’s the kind of dumb thing that could happen to anyone.

      I’m sure that after restoration no one will be able to tell anything happened to the work. Heck, some people may even give the painting closer consideration given the back-story. This might be a good “learning moment” over how to better protect works, but it has little to do with snacks, bad parenting, or certainly the wholesale destruction of cultural artifacts by ISIS.

      1. Granted, my statement started with a bit of hyperbole, but the point I was making was that artwork in regions of the world that are in war or severe economic distress are naturally going to be more exposed to damage and destruction, hence the ISIS statement.

        Museums worldwide have had the benefits of over 200+ years of hard won experience and history learning how to set up displays so items are far less likely to be inadvertently damaged by the patrons.

        Does it still happen? Unfortunately, yes, but usually because either the museum staff took shortcuts in setting up a display or the situation was something new or unusual (such as people waving selfie sticks around within the last few years).

        As for food and drink, any museum that is serious about it’s mission of preserving and informing patrons would never permit food and drink in the galleries like the museum in Taipei did here. That is why there are gift shops and cafeterias that are away from the actual displays.

        The museum here was negligent in the extreme to put a valuable painting so low down and with no real protection at all that a minor mishap with a careless kid ended up damaging the painting in a significant way (according to the article, the painting will likely not ever look quite the same, but I guess we can say that it gained “character” from this experience).

        I can access reference materials from my computer right now that were written for museum staff that plainly discuss how to display and care for items so patrons can enjoy them without endangering them… maybe I should send along a few links to the museum where this happened since they failed to do their due diligence?

        Here’s hoping all the museums involved had good insurance; competent art conservation and restoration is pricy! Prevention is far less so.

      1. No I just take issue with an utterly stupid, preventable accident that needlessly damaged an item that we’re all just the temporary custodians of as it is preserved for the future.

        That museum bears much of the blame here. I can’t speak for the people in charge of exhibits and displays in Taipei, but if something of that calibre were displayed at my local provincial museum, you can bet your grandma’s best china that they’d have done a better job of protecting the painting. Oh, and funny thing, the museum here has this really strange rule about forbidding food and drink because, oh yeah, things like this might happen. Just a cynical hunch, but that museum will be damned lucky if anyone is fool enough to lend anything of value to them in the future after this.

        As for the kid tripping, well, accidents can happen, but if the bit of footage is anything to go by, he looked utterly bored out of his mind. The fact that he wasn’t paying any attention to what he was doing before tripping seems to bear that out. Shame on his parents for not keeping a closer eye on him.

        I can speak with a bit of authority on this as I take my two young nephews out. We’ve even visited the local museum, but unlike the parents in this video, I was smart enough to know beforehand that they’d be bored with Renassaince art, but thrilled with dinosaurs. The solution was simple: come back without them to see the Renaissance art. Problem solved.

        I just go a little crazy when apologists can’t stand the hard truth that the kid was careless, the museum was irresponsible and the parents made a colossal error in judgement by bringing him along. I swear, if the laissez-faire attitudes expressed are anything to go by here, I wouldn’t be one bit surprised if some bored kid somehow scribbled on the Mona Lisa and was defended for it.

          1. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/15792243fbb02bc03fae2087b429d4addf8cc2bc6511aa3962684292b98d8d85.jpg

            To put it in the simplest terms here as you (and a few others) seem to have a tough time grasping an abstract concept (that older generations of parents would instantly recognize), there was never an apology from the kid and his parents. *sigh*

            Nope… they went on the offensive trying to spin all the blame elsewhere.

            I just went reading through multiple different English-language websites with this story. In only one, the coverage of the story via the CBC.CA and Reuters, was any mention of an apology listed. I’m not going to start saying that there is some kind of conspiracy to skip the mention of an apology, but it has me wondering why the apology was never mentioned elsewhere?

            Instead of being a name-calling troll as another poster was towards me and my mother recently, I’m simply observing that a lot of my observations about that child and his parents would have instantly been defused and forgotten had they ever simply apologized AT ALL. Radical concept eh? Talk to your grandparents or anyone else from their generation. They’d agree. But of course, what does anyone of a certain age know against today’s hip, young, permissive things in instances like this?

            There is such a thing as admitting someone made a mistake, owning it, apologizing for it and then finding a way to make things right. NOT shifting blame and crying foul when people rightfully (and spitefully) call them out about it. Its called manners; something that probably needs to be taught in schools since there seems to be a drought of it. Maybe as kids learn it, they could transmit it back to their parents who seem to have a shortage of it. You know, terms like “Sir, Ma’am, thank you” etc.

            As for the museum, I stand by my earlier remarks about their negligence in the display of the painting that led to this unfortunate accident.

            So to conclude, if you think that the kid and his parents were blameless and that people like myself are soulless trolls, mean-spirited, etc, then you really need to reappraise your own value system and ask yourself if you’d be fine if a friend’s child ruined something of great value to yourself and wouldn’t apologize for it.

      2. If protecting valuable art, landmarks and sites from utterly preventable accidents like this makes me hateful, then I’ll hate with zest and relish!

        It’s time people stop making excuses for their lack of responsibility (thinking of the museum that made this accident much too easy with the display and unthinkable food/drink policy or the parents who couldn’t be bothered to come to this exhibit without junior who was plainly anything but interested).

        It’s really not that different from when I destroyed a display of fine china as a youngster after walking into it while my mother was distracted by another display at a store; she had to pay for ALL of it and I got dressed down by the store manager and spanked by my mother when we got home.

        I’m just saying, being an apologist for such reckless behavior Is bad form and people need to start stepping up to the plate and owning their mistakes instead of spinning them off.

        Is it no wonder museums have so many hangups about the very patrons they are here to educate and inform?

        1. It sounds as if your mother (“my mother was distracted”) caused the damage to the china in the store if you were just a child. It was your mother who deserved a good beating. Go over to her house now and do it! She needs to be taught a lesson! You should whip her ass.

          1. My mother was never a saint, but she did the best she could in light of being a single-parent after my father died.

            Just imagine how she must’ve felt struggling to pay for all that expensive china on her income AND still keep the bills paid and my sister and me fed? With no public assistance to boot? I think she more than amply paid for that momentary oversight at the china department years ago. In fact, remembering that moment, I was frightened out of my wits, bawling as both her and the manager were yelling at me and being made to apologize while she was handed a statement with the final tally of my youthful exuberance in dollars. Then there was the spanking when we got home!

            I never left her side again when we went out in public, that is, until I was a bit older and she expressly gave permission as she knew I’d learned my lesson.

            I remember one other thing about that day from nearly forty years ago: she uttered the Mother’s Curse upon me, you know, the one that *every* mother will say to her children at some point after they’ve been especially awful — “I hope you have children exactly like yourself someday!”

            To date, no children here, but my hands are more than full with two autistic nephews when I babysit them. In a sense, her curse then seems almost fulfilled, lol! But… unlike the Taipei example, when I’ve taken them to the museum here, we stayed strictly upstairs where a copy of Sue the T-Rex lives. I’m smart enough to know that I’m begging for trouble if I were to bring them one floor down to the paintings & sculptures gallery.

  3. Where is your compassion? Do you not realize how traumatic it is for an adolescent to have this kind of negative incident happen and then viewed the world over? This could have happened to anyone. Look at his right foot. He clearly tripped because it hit the side of the stand. He was walking in a crowd. Our art is precious to us but when it supersedes human compassion we have a serious problem. The museum was remiss in it’s punishment to the youth.

  4. It’s so sad that Hyperallergic feels the need to resort to complete exploitation of a child’s misstep as having any meaning whatsoever. Soda-swigging? What if you were that child, his parents or siblings? You know he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing other than not looking exactly where he was stepping at every moment. Geez, guys! How unkind can you be? I’m very disappointed with your publication.

    1. Ok, Lauri, we get it. You like soda when looking at art in galleries. Gotchya! 😉 But honestly, it’s funny. It’s really a ridiculous thing and thankfully no one got hurt (even the canvas will be repaired), so it’s worth laughing about.

Comments are closed.