Critics can destroy the careers of artists, but leave it to the clumsy and enraged to destroy the actual works.
Earlier this month, a man was arrested after allegedly destroying $5 million of artifacts at the Dallas Museum of Art because he was angry at his girlfriend.
But just as shocking are those who mean no harm to the world’s cultural works. Last week, the Marilyn Monroe Collection Instagram account posted photos alleging to show how the dress Monroe wore to sing “Happy Birthday Mr. President” in 1962 to John F. Kennedy was damaged when Kim Kardashian wore it to the 2022 Met Gala.
The photos purport to show the dress missing some crystals and with others “hanging by a thread.”
Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museum in Orlando, which owns the dress — said to be worth more than $10 million — disputed this, saying the dress was not damaged by Kardashian and, in fact, already a number of seams “pulled and worn,” as well as “puckering at the back by the hooks and eyes.”
In any case, Artnet reported that the International Council of Museums was inspired to form a preservation committee and draw up guidelines recommending such pieces not be loaned out for wear.
Here are some of the worst examples of art harmed by human clumsiness, carelessness or worse.
‘Star-Spangled Banner’ flag
It’s the flag that inspired Francis Scott Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner” — but there’s a lot of those broad stripes and bright stars are missing now.
This 1814 version of Old Glory was raised over Fort McHenry and signaled American armed forces defeating British soldiers in the Battle of Baltimore. At the time that Key saw the flag waving, it measured 30-by-42 feet and featured 15 stars. But what’s on display today at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC, is much smaller and shows only 14 stars in the field of blue.
It seems Georgiana Armistead Appleton — the daughter of Fort McHenry commander Lt. Col. George Armistead, who took the flag home as a keepsake after the battle — began snipping off fragments of to give away to veterans, politicians and others. In total, according to the Smithsonian, “over two hundred square feet of the Star-Spangled Banner was eventually given away.”
Greek vases and other treasures at the Dallas Museum of Art
On June 1, Brian Hernandez allegedly got so “mad at his girl,” officials said, that he broke into the Dallas Museum of Art and turned ancient Greek treasures into rubble.
Security cameras captured the 21-year-old smashing items that included a vase from sixth-century Greece and another piece that dated back to 450 BC. In all, before being arrested, the hot-headed art hater caused some $5 million worth of damage.
He was arrested and is now locked up in the Dallas County Jail with bond set at $100,000, online records show.
Picasso’s ‘Le Reve’
Casino mogul Steve Wynne lost bit when, in 2006, he stumbled into “Le Reve,” a Picasso masterpiece that had been hanging in his office. Wynne’s elbow left a two-inch puncture in the canvas — and a $139 million hole in his wallet. That’s how much he had planned to sell the 1932 oil painting, which portrays Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse Walter, for to Mets owner Steve Cohen.
Adding insult to injury, Wynn damaged the treasured work before a crowd of media A-listers who included Nora Ephron, Nick Pileggi and Barbara Walters. One of those who was present and told The Post, “The poor man’s eyesight was so bad [Wynn suffers from retinitis peigmentosa] that he thought he was further away from the painting than he was. What shocked me more than what he did to the painting was how he handled it: He was so calm and quiet. He looked at us and said, ‘Thank heavens it was me.’ Then he called his wife.”
“Le Reve” was repaired and Wynn ended up selling it to Cohen for $150 million. He had more artistic bad luck in 2018, when his 1943 Picasso self-portrait “Le Marin” was withdrawn from a Christie’s auction after it was accidentally damaged by a paint roller that had been left propped against a wall.
George Harrison’s sitar
Things got out of tune when a sitar that had belonged to George Harrison — and which he used during the recording the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 1967 — was broken at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum in 2019.
According to the Daily Mail, a staffer dropped the instrument, which was to be part of a Harrison exhibit, so that its fretboard snapped right off. Museum employees then had to make “an awkward telephone call” to the Beatle’s widow, Olivia.
As to what the instrument might have been worth, another of Harrison’s sitars — the one he played on “Norwegian Wood” — sold for some $57,000 at auction in 2017.
Qing Dynasty vases
According to Nick Flynn, from Cambridge, England, he was visiting that town’s Fitzwilliam Museum in 2006 when he tripped on his untied shoelace and went tumbling to the bottom of a staircase — breaking three vases dating back to China’s Qing Dynasty.
In trying to stop his fall, Flynn said he hit the first vase and then the other two went down “like a set of dominos.” The pieces, which were displayed on a windowsill, had been part of the Kangxi Empire, which lasted from 1662-1722. The damage was estimated at around $122,000.
And the vases, as it turns out, were not insured. Soon after the incident, a police spokesman announced that Flynn had been “arrested on suspicion of criminal damage.” Flynn told the Guardian that he “spent a night in the cells. It wasn’t too heavy: the police kept offering me tea and beans and potato wedges.”
The charges were later dropped.
Claiming to have not “broken anything in ages,” Flynn added that he feels no guilt: “I actually think I did the museum a favor. So many people have gone there to see the windowsill where it happened that I must have increased visitation numbers. They should make me a trustee.”
Meanwhile, the family of a southwest London granny decided to get an old lamp from her home appraised in 2008. The good news: The blue-and-white ceramic base, originally a vase, dated to the early 18th century, having been made in China during the Qing dynasty. It was part of a pair worth an estimated $306,000. The bad news? Sometime over the last 300 years, it had been converted from vase to lamp, including drilling a small hole in the vase. That brought the value down to around $25,000.
$1.5 million ‘Flowers’ painting
A clumsy kid lost his footing while touring a Leonardo da Vinci-focused exhibit at a museum in Taiwain in 2015, tumbling fist-first into a 17th-century painting valued at $1.5 million — and it was all caught on video.
Luckily for the 12-year-old, the Huashan 1914 Creative Park museum in Taipei had insurance to cover the restoration cost, so his family was not held liable.
But exhibition organized Sun Chi-hsuan told CNN, “I’m actually thinking of asking the boy back to be a volunteer in the exhibition one day — as a penalty.”
‘Ecce Homo’ fresco
Cecilia Giménez was bothered by the rough shape and peeling paint of “Ecce Homo” (“Behold the Man”), a beloved fresco hanging at her church in Borja, Spain — so the 80-year-old decided to fix it in 2012.
Never mind that she had no art training. Her “restoration” of the circa 1930 rendering of Jesus Christ, by a minor artist, ended up being compared to a monkey and a potato. Heirs of the man who painted it were so horrified that they threatened to sue Giménez.
But there was an upside: The botched artwork turned into a magnet for kitsch-loving tourists. By 2016, more than 160,000 visitors flocked to the Sanctuary of Mercy church to view it, scooping up “Ecce Homo” souvenirs from pens to mugs to wine featuring Jesus’ tragically altered face on the label.
By then Gimenez didn’t fail so bad about her her restoration that turned into destruction. “I’ve gone to a psychiatrist and I take medication to feel a bit better,” she told The Post at the time. “Now I look [at the painting and think], ‘It’s okay, you’re not so ugly.’”
A couple of parents at the Prittwell Priory Museum in Southend, Essex, England, thought it would be hilarious in 2017 to put their young son inside an 800-year-old sandstone casket, known as a “sarcophagus” for a gag photo.
They raised the boys over a see-through barrier but did not realize that the coffin, which had been found on museum grounds in 1921 (with a skeleton inside), was actually in three sections. One piece, under the weight of the kid, tumbled away and smashed onto the ground.
The family fled the scene without telling anyone what had happened, leaving staffers, as conservator Claire Reed told the BBC, “shocked and upset” at the “unbelievable incident.”