Unknown artist, “Zun wine vessel in the shape of an owl” (13th–12th century BCE), bronze (all images courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Art)

An ancient Chinese owl vessel tragically fell victim to an accident at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) on April 8 when a visitor tripped inside the museum’s Eternal Offerings: Chinese Ritual Bronzes exhibition. No visitors or staff members were injured. A museum spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the owl was damaged and will be repaired.

The artifact is a zun, a bronze container for wine from the Shang dynasty (c. 1600–1046 BCE), the first period of China’s Bronze Age.

The figure’s head can be removed from its body to reveal a hollow vessel. There are a few other Shang dynasty owl zuns in the world, and although more standard vase-shaped versions exist, other zuns are sculpted to look like animals such as elephants and boars.

Aristocrats used the containers during ceremonies to honor their ancestors. Mia’s exhibition, on view through May 21, displays over 150 Ancient Chinese bronze containers in an immersive show intended to simulate these ritual ceremonies. The display, conceived by Hollywood designer Tim Yip (who won an Oscar for the 2001 film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), includes projections of an altar, the Yellow River and the sky, and bronze shards hung from the museum’s ceiling.

Since the accident, the museum has placed another ancient vessel in the owl’s place — a majestic bronze winged dragon.

Unknown artist, “Winged Dragon” (5th–4th century BCE), bronze

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.