Art Art &Commentary 26 Jan 2010 09:00 am

Embarrassment among the Riches

My most embarrassing moment

- There was a news story that was in all the papers yesterday. A woman visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with a study group, accidentally tripped and slammed into a Picasso painting tearing a hole in the lower right hand corner of the painting. They’ve determined that it can be repaired without too much pain, and it will most likely not be noticeable.

I’m sure that woman has gone through a small bit of hell since Friday. Lucky her, she’ll always be reminded of the incident every time she visits the Met. I know this because a similar thing happened to me many years ago.

I was a freshman in college. The teacher took the class, about 20 students to the Met to look at a small group of paintings. Like most dumb freshman, I was laughing and joking with friends on the periphery of the group, ignoring the teacher.

She had gathered the class in a corner around a small Rembrandt. I realized that it was time to stop fooling around and get in there to hear what the teacher was telling the class. I saw an opening against the wall and thought I could maneuver my way to the front.

Well, there was an opening because there was a small platform to keep visitors away from the painting. I didn’t see it and tripped.
I grabbed the first thing I could to prevent me from falling – the Rembrandt.

It was hanging by two wires, and I had a hand on each side of the painting winging back and forth. It prevented my fall, but it took a split second for me to realize what I was doing. Guards came running. The entire class, including the teacher, were aghast. I quickly let go. The painting continued to swing left to right and back again.

The Rembrandt to the (Right) wasn’t the painting I grabbed, but it looked not too different in my memory; it was a portrait. (I’ve completely blocked out the name of the actual painting.)

I didn’t rip anything but a hole in my brain that remains with me every time I go near the Met. So . . . I know what that poor woman felt, though her damage was quite a bit greater. She ripped a Picasso canvas; I just tested the wires that hung the Rembrandt. Luckily for me, they held up.

11 Responses to “Embarrassment among the Riches”

  1. on 26 Jan 2010 at 10:09 am 1.Stephen Macquignon said …

    In my teens my parents took me to the Met. I remember having a hard time, the guards were always on me to tell me to stop touching every thing I was fascinated with the artwork and wanted a closer look, I did not get to hang on to a Rembrandt nor rip a Picasso but stories like this one reminds me of that time. Going to the Met now or other museums I have a tendency to but my hand behind my back this habit I’ve been trying to break.

  2. on 26 Jan 2010 at 11:16 am 2.stephen said …

    that’s a really awesome story. I can still remember being 4 years old and touching a sculpture at a museum. The guard gave me such an outraged look and finger wag that I felt guilty well into adolescence.

  3. on 26 Jan 2010 at 12:14 pm 3.Liesje said …

    I jumped in the fountain in front of the Egyptian temple when I was 5 or 6. Not quite as impressive, but my parents never let me live it down.

  4. on 26 Jan 2010 at 1:06 pm 4.Saffron said …

    that’s a badass Rembrandt!!! I wouldn’t mind if it had a rip or a gum in the face!!

  5. on 26 Jan 2010 at 1:22 pm 5.Michael said …

    That self-portrait of Rembrandt is one of the most famous. I think it’s one of his greatest works and I’m pleased my fingerprints never touched it.

  6. on 26 Jan 2010 at 7:04 pm 6.Eddie Fitzgerald said …


  7. on 26 Jan 2010 at 10:54 pm 7.Pilsner Panther said …

    I once took my then-teenage sister and her (dim) boyfriend to the Whitney Museum. Not that she ever had a boyfriend who wasn’t dim… Anyway, we stopped in front of Stanton Mcdonald-Wright’s “Oriental Synchromy In Blue-Green,” one of my favorite American paintings.

    I started to explain to them how the composition works: “All you see here is some pretty colors, right? But if you look carefully, you’ll notice that there’s a scene with human figures underneath—”

    Just then, idjit boyfriend reached out at the canvas and started scratching it with his fingernail! It was all I could do to keep my voice down as I slapped his arm away and snarled at him, “STOP that, you moron! You want to get us all thrown out of here!?”

    One job I’d never want is… Art museum director. I’d probably be good at it, but I’d have a stroke or a heart attack in about six months.

  8. on 27 Jan 2010 at 1:02 pm 8.Mike McLaren said …

    Wouldn’t that be a sad epitaph: Here lies the man who destroyed a Rembrandt. (Sounds worth a short story—or some short animation!)

  9. on 28 Jan 2010 at 7:00 am 9.willva said …

    =) awsome haha thats defnitly a good story, glad you didn’t cause any damage though, sure you would have tested the capacity of your legs if you did haha =)

  10. on 30 Jan 2010 at 10:30 pm 10.Jenny said …

    Sure, Eddie can laugh…but *I* actually held my breath reading your story.

    I felt such a horrible sense of secondhand anguish reading that news item the other day about the unnamed woman at the Met; your anecdote with its more personal detail told firsthand is almost–almost–more excruciating. Thank god nothing happened to the Rembrandt-or to you!

  11. on 31 Jan 2010 at 9:07 am 11.Michael said …

    The chink in my armor chipped off that day and still comes out full flush when I remember the moment.

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