The Craziest Cases of Art Vandalism (Photos)

In Miami, a man protested an Ai Wei Wei exhibit by replicating the artist's shattered vase piece…with an Ai Wei Wei original. He's not the only person to protest art by ruining it.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty,Peter Macdiarmid

Joe Raedle/Getty

News broke on Sunday that a museum visitor entered the Perez Art Museum in Miami, walked over to a collection of colorful vases crafted by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, raised one to eye level and released it, mimicking the photographs of the artist that adorn the wall around the piece. And with that action, $1 million shattered on the ground. Maximo Caminero, 51, told the Miami Times that he “did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here. They have spent so many millions now on international artists. It’s the same political situation over and over again. I’ve been here for 30 years and it’s always the same.” The museum disputed these claims, revealing an upcoming exhibition that includes Miami resident Edouard Duval-Carrie.


Tracey Emin's 'My Bed'

In 1999, disguised within a group of Japanese tourist at Tate Britain, two Chinese artists, Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi, stripped their clothing and leaped onto a centerpiece of the museum’s then current exhibition of Turner Prize contenders. The artwork, My Bed, was one of the most talked about pieces of that year. It was the same bed, complete with disheveled, stained sheets littered with soiled underwear, used condoms, and empty liquor bottles, in which the artist, Tracey Emin, had spent four days in what she declared a “lost weekend.” Cai and Xi began pillow fighting and shouting in indecipherable Mandarin, but were apprehended before they were able to perform the planned “sexual act [that] was necessary to fully respond to Tracey’s piece” and “the self-promotion implicit in it.” My Bed sold at auction in 2013 for $778,900.


Marcel Duchamp's 'Fountain'

Tate Britain probably should have banned the previously mentioned duo. In spring of 2000, artists Yuan Cai and Jian Jun Xi returned to the Tate, targeting one of the most influential pieces of Modern art, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain. The object is a re-appropriated mass produced bathroom urinal that revolutionized the art world with the simple idea that an already crafted object could be turned into a new work of art simply by changing its placements and giving it a new name—a urinal turned into a fountain. Cai and Xi wanted to make sure that it was used for its original purpose, by urinating on it. Luckily, the artwork was encased on a pedestal as the two artists urinated on its base for over a minute. “Modern British art is getting worse and worse.” Xi told The Guardian soon after the incident. “They haven’t taken any risks. The mainstream are caught in a circle, and we are outside that circle—pissing in.”

Print Collector/Getty

Diego Velasquez's 'Rokeby Venus'

During the height of the women’s rights movement in 1914, one lone suffragette entered the National Gallery in London and wrecked havoc on a painting depicting a lounging female nude. Using a meat chopper, Mary Richardson incised seven large cuts into Rokeby Venus, the masterpiece painted by Diego Velasquez, as protest for the equal rights of women. “Justice is an element of beauty as much as color and outline on canvas,” Richardson said in a statement explaining her actions. “If there is an outcry against my deed, let everyone remember that such an outcry is hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction [of] beautiful living women.” The painting was fully restored and is the only surviving female nude by Velazquez.

Peter Macdiarmid/Getty

Damien Hirst's 'Away from the Flock'

Sometimes artists feel the need to contribute to works already on display in major public institutions. This was the case with Mark Bridger, an unemployed artist who added even more controversy to an already edgy exhibition at the serpentine Gallery in London. Bridger targeted a Damien Hirst original, Away from the Flock, which sold for £1.8 million in 2006 and showcased a preserved lamb set in formaldehyde. Bridger entered the gallery, opened the top of the tank and added black ink to completely cover up the animal inside. “To live is to do things,” Bridger told The Guardian. “I was providing an interesting addendum to his work. In terms of conceptual art, the sheep had already made its statement. Art is there for creating of awareness and I added to whatever it was meant to say.” The piece of art was restored overnight, but Hirst included a photo of the Black Sheep in a book he later published.


Chris Ofili's 'The Holy Virgin Mary'

There were a lot of issues surrounding the aptly titled Sensation exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1999. Reflecting on the various artworks owned by major art power player Charles Saatchi, the show included many controversial pieces including Damien Hirst’s shark, Tracey Emin’s Everyone I Have Ever Slept With, and many sexually explicit images and sculptures. One piece in particular sparked outrage and had politicians threatening to pull funding—Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary. The portrait of the biblical figure was depicted against a backdrop of pornographic images and decorated with elephant dung, but it was meant as homage to femininity and a woman’s connection with nature. However, not everyone agreed with the artist. Seventy-two-year-old Dennis Heiner snuck behind the protective plexiglass shield to squirt and smear white paint all over the canvas.

© Reuters Photographer / Reuters

'Snow White and the Madness of Truth'

 Even politicians have a hard time holding back on their opinions of art. In 2004, the Israeli Ambassador to Sweden, Zvi Mazel, lost his temper when viewing a recent installation at the National Antiquities Museum in Stockholm. The work by Israeli artist Dror Feiler and his wife, titled Snow White and the Madness of Truth, depicted a pool of blood red liquid and a lone boat with a photograph of the Palestinian suicide bomber Hanadi Jaradat attached to it. Jaradat detonated explosives at a restaurant in northern Israel in response to the death of her brother, killing 21 people and injuring 51 others. Mazel was so outraged that he grabbed a standing light and threw it into the pool, creating an unsafe environment for spectators. “For me it was intolerable and an insult to the families of the victims,” the Ambassador told The Guardian. “As ambassador to Israel I could not remain indifferent to such an obscene misrepresentation of reality. This was not a piece of art. This was a monstrosity.”

Universal History Archive/Getty

Leonardo da Vinci's 'Mona Lisa'

Undoubtedly the most famous person in art history, the Mona Lisa is also one of the most abused major works of art, having been stolen, defaced, graffitied, and stoned. In 1956, a museum visitor doused the mysterious lady in acid, incurring irreparable damage to the lower portion. Later that same year, a Bolivian man hoisted a large rock at the center of the iconic painting lodging the stone under Mona Lisa’s left elbow. If that wasn’t enough cruelty, she suffered one more attack in 1974 after extensive conservation. Protesting the accessibility of handicapped visitors, a Japanese woman sprayed red paint across the exposed canvas while it was on display at the Tokyo National Museum.