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In the Air – Art+Auction's Gossip Column

Report of Mishaps at U.K. Art Spaces Reveals Comically Sloppy Museum Etiquette

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Among the most shocking acts of negligence at a public museum in the U.K. revealed by a report made public thanks to the Freedom of Information Act following the recent Mark Rothko vandalism at the Tate Britain is the story of the early Pop art masterwork by Roy Lichtenstein, “Whaam!” (pictured), which was damaged when a visitor to Tate Modern disposed of his or her chewing gum directly onto the painting.

“Britain’s museums and galleries are rightly renowned around the world for the quality of their collections and for their curatorial and conservation standards,” a spokesperson for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport told the Telegraph. “Inevitably, however, with so many items being transported, conserved, catalogued and displayed at any one time, a small number will from time to time get damaged.”

The numbers revealed in the report, however, are not all that small. In fact, over the last three years, at the eight national museums and galleries surveyed, some 199 artworks were either damaged, lost, or stolen. The Natural History Museum accounted for 19 of the total number of damaged artworks nationwide, while three objects from its collections went missing entirely. National Museums Scotland reported 22 artworks stolen and another 22 damaged.

Meanwhile Government Art Collection, which manages the art installed in British embassies and government buildings had 27 artworks damaged — including a George Hayter portrait of Queen Victoria that was slashed during an attack on the British ambassador’s home in Tehran last year — and lost another nine.

Art damage and defacement will be the subject of a major show at Tate Britain next year, “Art Under Attack,” which will chronicle acts of art vandalism from the 16th century to the present.

— Benjamin Sutton

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