In August 2013, an exhibition of works by Indian and Pakistani artists was attacked while on view at Amdavad-ni-Gufa gallery in Ahmedabad, India. According to witnesses, a group of roughly 20 men stormed the exhibition and began attacking the pieces on view, as well as destroying furniture and tearing posters from windows.
According to reports, the men were allegedly associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajarang Dal organizations.
The activists were reportedly angry that an Indian gallery was promoting the work of Pakistani artists following recent skirmishes on the LoC. "How can paintings of Pakistani artists be allowed to be on display here when that country is beheading and killing our soldiers, waging a proxy war?“ VHP Gujarat unit general secretary Ranchhod Bharvad said. Asked whether VHP activists had ransacked the gallery, he replied, "Our workers registered a strong protest.”
In June 2015, this sculpture was demolished by separatist militants in
In 2014, rebels from the Donstsk People’s Republic (DPR), an unrecognized pro-Russian separatist group, took control of the Izolyatsia Center for Cultural Initiatives, a local arts and culture center
located in a Soviet-era insulation factory. An update to the center’s website reported that armed rebels had invaded the space and were “demanding the appropriation of the site and its buildings for the benefit of the DPR and its activities.”
Despite the promise of DPR’s minister for social policy, Roman Lyagin, that “artworks and property belonging to the foundation would not be damaged,” Tayou’s work - a 40m-tall factory chimney that was topped with a giant lipstick tube, dedicated to women’s role in rebuilding Germany after WWII - was demolished with explosives, the act recorded on video. The work was damaged beyond repair.
Other works in the center’s collection were reportedly damaged in the occupation as well: Large-scale art installations from Daniel Buren, Leandro Ehrlich, and Cai Guo-Qiang were allegedly looted and vandalized, while Maria Kulikovska’s “Homo Bulla” was used for target practice and Kader Attia’s “Ce N’est Rien” was converted into a prison and interrogation center.
Maria Kulikovska, “Homo Bulla” / hammer wielded by the artist
In November 2015, Ukranian artist Maria Kulikovska used a hammer to destroy three of her own works in an act of protest.
The original “Homo Bulla,” a series of soap sculptures created from casts of the artist’s nude body, was originally installed in 2012 at the Izolyatsia Art Center in Donetsk, Ukraine. But after pro-Russian rebels violently seized control of the Center in June 2014, the works were reportedly destroyed, used by the militants as target practice. “They completely destroyed my full-body sculptures by shooting them,”
Kulikovska said. “When they shot them, they announced that their action was their own performance, to show everyone their power and what will happen with anyone who do not agree with them.”
In response, Kulikovska created a duplicate set of sculptures as part of a group exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery. Entering the gallery in the nude, she then used a hammer to destroy the works during the show’s opening.“It’s my response to the terrorists that I am the owner of my body and my life,” she explained. “It is also a feminist stance; no one has the right to destroy images of women.”
Multiple works by Luis Serrano and Mauro Maugliani / spraypaint
In February 2017, multiple paintings were attacked with spraypaint while on view at Rome’s Galleria L’Opera. Four men (three of them masked) entered the gallery space during viewing hours and painted the works before rushing out; though they were seen by a student assistant on-site, they remain unidentified.
The exhibition on view, “Trialogo,” had been the subject of controversy due to the content of the works on view, which took on issues surrounding the Church. Maugliani’s canvas, for instance, featured a woman wearing a clerical collar, while “Si, Quiero,” a series of photographs by Gonzalo Orquin, had drawn the ire of the Vatican for featuring images of same-sex couples kissing in various churches.
Only days prior to the attack, the Vicariate of Rome, part of the Vatican, threatened the gallery with legal action over Orquin’s photographs, which it deemed offensive. In response, Orquin decided to cover the photographs himself, hiding them behind black cardboard while black crosses stood beneath as a silent protest against censorship. The four assailants, unable to find the photos, attacked the paintings instead.
In February 2017, an exhibition of works by self-described “anarchist-artist” David Chichkan was destroyed while on view at Kyiv’s
Visual Culture Research Center.
A group of masked individuals broke into the Center, beat the guard, destroyed the works on view, and spray painted the walls with phrases like “Glory to Ukraine!”, “Loudspeaker of Moscow”, and “Separ”.
Said an employee who witnessed the attack: “We opened the exhibition as planned, at 2pm. Immediately we noticed a ‘scout’ who came for reconnaissance, and understood that an attack is possible. We called security guard and closed the exhibition from inside. We opened only for visitors, only one at a time was allowed to enter.” But at 6pm, as a guard opened the doors for the next visitor, a group of roughly 15 masked individuals burst into the space, assaulted the guard, and began attacking the work. All of the items on view were damaged beyond repair.
While none of the assailants were arrested, the exhibition’s organizers suspected right-wing radicals. In fact, there had been another violent incident at the Center a few days prior, when Chichkan was scheduled to hold a guided tour of exhibition. When the tour drew threats from right-wing radicals on Facebook, the gallery canceled the tour and closed the exhibition - but a few unknowns came to the Center anyway. After trying to break through the closed door, they damaged a banner, tore down a poster and beat up a random passerby before fleeing.
In June 2017, this 16-ft fiberglass sculpture was vandalized while on view outside the home of gallerists Janet Lehr and Ruth Vered in the Village of Sag Harbor in the Hamptons. The piece had been the subject of some controversy in the weeks leading up to the incident, as local officials argued it violated zoning rules; only days after citations were issued, unidentified parties splashed the work with red paint.
While the damage was repairable, the citations for removal stood.
On August 20, 2014, a man splashed a red substance (later confirmed to be blood) on a blank gallery wall on the third floor of the Whitney’s ongoing Jeff Koons retrospective. He also inscribed some graffiti in black ink.
The man was quickly apprehended by security and removed by the police, who took him to a hospital for evaluation. He was eventually identified as Canadian performance artist Istvan Kantor, who was acting under the guise of “Monty Cantsin,” an “open-source, multi-use” identity associated with Neoism.
The floor was temporarily closed, but reopened within two hours. No art was damaged.
In May 2018, law enforcement announced that the 2017 slashing of a Christopher Wool painting in Aspen’s Opera Gallery was carried out by Nicholas Morley, the son of the painting’s owner. Documents say Morley, 40, flew from London to Denver under a fake name the day before the painting was slashed. He then rented a car and flew back to England two days later.
Aspen police and prosecutors issued an arrest warrant for Morley, 40, charging him with felony criminal mischief. He faces 12-18 months in prison if convicted; his current whereabouts are unknown.
The painting, which since has been repaired, was owned by Morley’s father, Harold Morley of Barbados. Documents claim that at the time, in correspondence with the art gallery after the slashing, Nick Morley asked a gallery manager to deem the damage “an accident” and to persuade the police of the same.
His father also asked the gallery to “calm” the investigation and said he would not file an insurance claim over the slashing. On May 5, 2017, Harold Morley sent a letter to the gallery saying that the painting “can be easily restored” and that he did not plan on filing an insurance claim. Further, he asked the gallery to put out a statement “refuting” an Aspen Times story about the slashing “and stating that it was only a minor incident,” according to the affidavit.
A day later, he wrote a text message to the gallery’s manager, asking him to “defuse any idea that the painting is destroyed or even devalued.” He said he wanted to block or remove online video of the slashing, restore the painting, and quickly sell it - and “if asked by anyone, we laugh it off as actually making the work intrinsically more valuable.” “We could even put it up for sale now for $3.5m on the basis it is ‘famous,‘” he wrote. Still, he said, “Since we are not making an insurance claim, there is no reason why the recollection of the incident should not be eliminated as quickly as possible from staff and public. Then it just becomes ‘folklore.'”
Nick Morley, for his part, denies the claims. "Regarding the painting, I did not cause the damage,“ he said in a statement initially released by his Aspen lawyer only to The Times of London newspaper. "I was the beneficial owner of the painting at the time. Any suggestion that I damaged my own property is based on speculation and circumstantial evidence. At no time have I sought to claim any financial benefit from the damage to the painting and simply wanted to privately deal with the matter.”
(Nick Morley is pictured above, following his 2007 conviction in Macedonia for killing an elderly couple he crashed into during a road race for the wealthy called the Gumball 3000 Rally.)
Christopher Wool “Untitled 2004″ / knife
In May 2017, this wall-sized painting was punctured with a knife while on view at Aspen’s Opera Gallery.
An unknown man wearing sunglasses, a hat and a full beard entered the gallery (after stopping the door to prevent being locked inside), made a beeline for the painting and slashed the canvas twice with a knife or razor blade before running out. No motive is apparent, and no arrests have been made. The gallery’s owner said he has no idea what prompted the vandalism, but in recent weeks had received three suspicious calls from a man using a blocked phone number asking if the gallery had a Wool painting.
The painting itself was damaged beyond repair, though it still hangs in the gallery. It was being sold on consignment, he said.
“On it’s face, it’s extremely suspicious,” Aspen Police Detective Jeff Fain said. “There has to be a reason someone would want to destroy this painting.”
Giotto di Bondone “Madonna alla Costa” (1300) / car bomb
In May 1993, this oil painting was damaged while on view at the Diocesan Museum at the church of Santo Stefano al Ponte in Florence. The work sustained injury in the Mafia bombing on Via dei Georgofili, but was later restored - save for a tear in the top left corner, which was left intact to serve as a reminder of the violent act.
Photos from inside Florence’s Uffizi Gallery after it was damaged by a car bomb in May 1993.
Later revealed as a Mafia-driven attack aimed at the gallery, the bomb was detonated in the Via dei Georgofili, killing five people and injuring dozens more. (The act was part of a campaign of terror orchestrated by the Corleonesi family in response to the article 41-bis law, by which mafiosi were imprisoned in particularly harsh conditions, greatly restricting their contact with others in an attempt to stop them from continuing to orchestrate crime while incarcerated.)
Over 20 paintings and statues were damaged or destroyed in the attack. Among those lost were three 17th-century paintings: “Birth of Christ” by Utrecht’s Gerrit van Honthorst (known in Italy as Gherardo delle Notti) and Bartolomeo Manfredi’s “Buonaventura” and “Ciclo Viti.”
“Some lost arms, some lost legs,” said Uffizi director Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, referring to a group of Roman statues known as “Niobe and her Children.”
"The worst damage is structural,” she continued. “The damage to paintings could have been worse. Many paintings were saved by the protective glass that tourists find so obnoxious.” (Among the artworks protected by said glass were Michelangelo’s 1456 oil painting of the Holy Family and Botticelli’s "Birth of Venus” and “Spring”.)
Francis de Saint-Vidal, Ain El Fouara fountain (1898) / chisel and hammer
In December 2017, this work was damaged while on public view in the northern Algerian town of Sétif. Passers-by watched as a man climbed the pedestal and broke off the face and breasts of the female figure.
The event was documented by multiple onlookers. Footage shows people shouting at the perpetrator, some throwing things at him while others physically strike him with sticks. One man eventually managed to get up on the statue with a stick in his hand, forcing the assailant to protect himself, at which point another man wrestled his hammer away. Once police arrived at the scene, officers had to restrain multiple onlookers trying to attack the assailant, who was arrested on-site.
It’s not yet known whether the damaged work could be restored.
This wasn’t the first time the nude figure caused controversy. In April 1997, it was damaged by a homemade bomb; it was also attacked by a man with a hammer in February 2006. In each case, the damage was repairable.
Jeff Koons, “Gazing Ball (Perugino Madonna and Child with Four Saints)” (2014-15) / museum visitor
In April 2018, this work was damaged while on view at Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk, a 15th-century church that frequently hosts art installations.
“Gazing Ball…” is a meticulous remake of an altarpiece by the 16th-century Italian artist Pietro Perugino (”Madonna and Child with Four Saints”), offset by a blue glass ball. Hoping to take a closer look at the work, an attendee touched and accidentally dislodged the sphere, causing it to fall to the floor and shatter.
A spokesperson said the individual concerned was “deeply shocked,” and confirmed that the sabotage hadn’t been intentional. “He wanted to touch the artwork like lots of other people. Then the ball shattered.”
Chris Ofili, “The Holy Virgin Mary” (1996) / paint
In December 1999, this work was damaged while on view at the Brooklyn Museum of Art. Dennis Heiner, a 72-year-old Manhattan resident, feigned illness to distract a security guard before darting behind a plexiglass shield; he then squeezed white latex paint from a plastic lotion bottle and spread it across the figure’s face and body.
Ofili’s work had caused controversy due to its content: a portrait of a black Madonna, adorned with pornographic cut-outs and accented by a clump of shellacked elephant dung. Heiner, a retired teacher and anti-abortion activist, said the painting was “blasphemous,” and claimed he’d attacked the work in order to “clean it.”
When asked of her husband’s actions, Helena Heiner said, “We kneel down on our knees and pray to the Blessed Virgin every day to help our family and help our country. We have been upset about this painting for a very long time.” Denouncing the work as “abusive,” she encouraged her husband to take action. “He was not afraid of getting arrested, absolutely not. He was trying to clean the painting,” she said. “The man who painted it showed very poor taste and very little respect for the representation of the Virgin Mary. If [Ofili] saw a picture of his mother depicted in that way, he’d take a knife to the person who made it. He would kill him.”
Heiner was charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possessing instruments of graffiti—all misdemeanors because the damage to the painting was valued at less than $1,500. The work was quickly restored and placed back on public view.
Peter Paul Rubens’ “Portrait of Archduke Albrecht” (1583-1595) after it was damaged by acid while on view at the Museum of Art, Dusseldorf, in 1982.
Hans-Joachim Bohlmann, a North German living on a disability pension since undergoing a brain operation, tossed acid at the canvas because, as he later told police, he was troubled by the figure’s piercing eyes.
This was not Bohlmann’s first attack on an artwork: Following the death of his wife in 1977, he made a habit of vandalizing works of art, damaging a reported 23 separate paintings before being imprisoned.
In October 2007, a series of works by Andres Serrano were damaged while on view at the Kulturen Gallery in Lund, Sweden.
According to witnesses, four masked men stormed into the gallery, pushing staff out of the way while chanting, “We don’t support this shit!” They proceeded directly into a darkened gallery space and attacked various works in the exhibition, titled “A History of Sex,” with crowbars and axes. In the end, seven works had been damaged.
The attackers were accompanied by a fifth individual, who documented the attack with a handheld video recorder. The footage was briefly posted on YouTube—the action set to a heavy metal soundtrack,interspersed with close-ups of Serrano’s photographs and lettered commentary in Swedish (“This is art?”)—before being taken down.
As they fled the gallery, the perpetrators left leaflets that said, “Against decadence and for a healthier culture.” While the leaflets were not attributed to a particular organization, authorities believed the attackers had Neo-Nazi ties.
While the works on view were damaged beyond repair, they were promptly replaced, as Serrano creates all of his works in editions of three. The individuals responsible were never found or charged.
Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” (1987) after it was attacked in April 2011 while on view at the Collection Lambert in Avignon, France. As confirmed by surveillance footage, three vandals aided by “a hammer and an object like a screwdriver or pickaxe,” according to museum officials, attacked the piece, shattering glass and puncturing the print. No arrests were made; the work remained on view as it was, “so the public can appreciate for themselves the violence of the acts.”
Delacroix’s “La Liberte Guidant Le Peuple” (1830) after it was damaged on February 7, 2013 while on view at the Louvre-Lens in northern France. A 28-year-old woman used a permanent marker to scrawl “AE911,” which apparently referred to the conspiracy theory group Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth. The woman was immediately apprehended; the painting was restored and placed back on view soon after.
I’m trying to find instances in which native-digital artworks have been intentionally damaged - if any come to mind, I’d appreciate a heads up! Feel free to reach out via DM or at email@example.com. Thanks! :)