On Sunday, one of Jeff Koons’s reflective “Gazing Balls” shattered into dozens of pieces, after a curious individual touched it in an Amsterdam church. The glass work, on display in a temporary exhibition, was reduced to a pile of fragments on April 8, the last day the show was open.
“Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with Four Saints)” was installed at the Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church known for its high-profile art exhibitions. It included a blue glass orb, reminiscent of a giant Christmas ornament, that sat on an aluminum shelf attached to an altarpiece painting by Pietro Perugino, which Koons replicated. Koons has been producing these paintings since 2014, as a follow-up to his 2013 series that balanced gazing balls on plaster sculptures.
Displayed in the church’s apse, the gazing ball was the centerpiece of the three-month exhibition, which also featured a video work. Martijn van Schieveen, a spokesperson for Nieuwe Kerk, confirmed that a visitor had touched the glass ball, which immediately broke, leaving behind shards that were silver on the inside. The painting itself remains undamaged, and no one was hurt.
As its name implies, the mirrored sphere is intended for viewers to gaze into, creating a special, intimate relationship with the reflected image. At Nieuwe Kerk, visitors could get pretty close to the blue ball; only an area marked by a line of tape indicated how far of a distance people should keep between their bodies and the ball.
At a press preview in 2015, Koons said that each hand-blown gazing ball is secured to the shelf by a metal rod that sticks up through the center of each one. A person would have to lift it up to remove it, he said.
Speaking with Dutch daily de Volkskrant, van Schieveen said the ball “jumped” after the visitor, who remains unidentified, touched it. The church is now working with Koons’s studio to investigate the situation and assess the damage, as well as the possibility of repair. It has not disclosed the value of the gazing ball and its accompanying painting.
Benjamin Sutton contributed reporting.