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Please, don’t touch the art (GIF by the author via YouTube)

Enough is enough — when will museum visitors learn to NOT TOUCH THE ART??! Are notice signs insufficient? Are rope barriers mere suggestions? Do people lack respect for culture, or simply, the common sense to know that objects on display are there for observing and not for climbing, pulling, or posing with to take a selfie?

Evidently good judgement is indeed remiss in some, who somehow have not learned any lessons from countless past incidents. Our latest offender is a man visiting Pennsylvania’s National Watch & Clock Museum — home to North America’s largest horological collection — who was obviously unable to restrain himself from enjoying a tactile experience. So enthralled is our gent with a clock hanging on a wall that snapping a photograph won’t satisfy; instead, as his female companion silently watches, he has to spend nearly a full minute prodding the work and swaying its movable parts until it crashes to the floor and fractures. Sculpted by Iowa-based artist James Borden, the wooden timekeeper is one of many Borden handcrafts for his business Timeshapes, which offers large clocks that integrate complicated wheels, gears, and pulley systems. He had donated it to the museum in 1994, as NBC Philadelphia reported.

Our protagonist had attempted to rehang the clock but failed — also, it’s broken — so he surrendered, leaning it against the wall. The painful and tense footage of this scene arrives from the museum itself, which posted a video to its YouTube channel titled, “Please Don’t Touch!!!”

“This is why we beg and plead with our visitors to please refrain from touching objects in museums,” the museum writes in the video’s description, noting that the couple did notify staff immediately instead of attempting to damage-and-dash.

Museum director Noel Poirier told NBC Philadelphia that the man was likely trying to get the clock to operate, adding that the clock is undergoing in-house repairs and will probably return to its wall in a few months.

“Once he pulled it up a little too high, that weight came off track and the heavy weight came down, hit the clock, knocked the clock off the wall, so then you see the results,” Poirier said. “I think what he was trying to do was raise the weight up because I think he thought that would make the clock run.”

The museum is not pressing charges against the couple, instead taking a rather good-natured stance on the entire matter.

“Apparently this visitor really wanted to see this one run,” Poirier said. “For us, it’s a learning opportunity for folks because there are reasons that museums ask folks not to touch things.”

2016 has already blessed us with an abundance of art mishaps, and we are only inches into June. But please, tell me we have reached some kind of terrible peak of museum destructions, for if I have to write about these incidents again I’ll probably have to go on my own destructive rampage from sheer frustration.

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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,...

6 replies on “Watch This ‘Ding Dong’ Clock a Museum Timepiece”

  1. I had opined that damage to art from visitors was a problem caused by bad parenting, but after reading this, I stand corrected. Does anyone else reading this story want to do a face-palm? Up to a point I guess I can concede that children will do things but adults? At least the couple in this story owned up to their actions and alerted the staff.

    Maybe museums need to have a “Touchy-touchy feely-feely” room with replicas of a few of their best items to take the punishment? Hopefully at a safe distance away from the genuine items? 😉

      1. That is great to hear. I didn’t know that. Hopefully more museums will do that, especially with the recent spate of art damage caused by visitors. It would be unfortunate if museums had to move the art further from the public in such ways as to diminish its power to inspire for safety and security reasons. i think this has happened to a degree with how the Venus de Milo is currently displayed, for example. She stands isolated on a tall pedestal. Yes the setup gives more people a chance to see her, but it has had the effect of isolating her as well. Anyways, maybe there need to be more assertive guards around who aren’t afraid of offending visitors who won’t follow museum rules?

  2. I define an “Adult” as being a” Child” in grownups clothing. That being the case, their actions are some what to be expected, but not appreciated!

  3. maybe museums should require handcuffs for their visitors and ankle bracelets like dog shock collars to keep them away from the art.

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