Oops, artwork demolished: ‘In principle, Dutch museums are not insured’


An Austrian visitor has sat down in the Gipsoteca Museum on a statue by artist Antonio Canova. It is a plaster model depicting Paolina Bonaparte. She is said to have been a sister of Napoleon.

Dutch examples

Also in Dutch museums sometimes works of art die. A visitor to the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum, for example, came across a wax figure last year, in which his ankle was damaged. In 2018, an artwork by the American artist Jeff Koons was killed in the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam. The work was worth millions of euros.

A visitor to the Groninger Museum knocked over a large and expensive vase there in 2014. The piece of art could not be saved anymore.

In the Stedelijk Museum in Schiedam, a boy ended up with his roller skates in the peanut butter floor by artist Wim T. Schippers last year. Fortunately, museum employees were soon ready with a new jar of peanut butter to repair the damage.

“It was only a matter of smearing new peanut butter,” press officer Sandra Jongenelen of the Stedelijk Museum tells Editie NL. “And it was close that the floor was not made by the artist himself. So we were not devastated.”


According to Jongenelen, there are all kinds of protocols for when it should occur. “It depends, for example, whether it is on loan or not. Art is also difficult in that sense. In New York you had an artwork of a banana that someone started to eat. The artist then wanted to respond to that destruction again.”

According to Jongenelen, it is especially important for museums to think carefully about the space in which the art is exhibited. “Of course you can put showcases, place some works of art in the corners or, for example, set an alarm. And monitor children; after all, they are still children. We sometimes give them cushions to sit on, so that they don’t keep running around.”

Expensive joke

Damage to artworks can sometimes get into the papers. “In principle, Dutch museums are not insured for this,” says art historian Willem Baars. “You cannot insure a Van Gogh either. How high should the premium be ?! But people can be held liable if they have broken something.”

Baars thinks museums shouldn’t be too hard about it. “It’s rotten, but those things happen. You sometimes break something at home. It usually doesn’t happen on purpose. And luckily it doesn’t happen often.”


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