Sean Matthews “Fair and Square” / mother and child

In August 2018, this sculpture was damaged within 10 minutes of being put on view at the Susquehanna Art Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

Matthews’ exhibition “Recycled Play,” which converts children’s toys into conceptual art, included “Fair and Square,” an installation in which a pair of playground swings hang in mid-air on soldered chains, appearing frozen in motion. At the exhibition’s opening, a mother and daughter - thinking the installation was interactive - proceeded to use the swings.

The work was damaged beyond repair. The artist, however, decided to leave the work as it was, adding a steel fence and posting a photograph of the work in its original fashion next to the now-damaged installation.

Lauren Nye, the Susquehanna’s director of exhibitions, said she would not be pursuing financial repercussions against the mother and child. Nye also released a statement on behalf of the art museum:

The museum regrets the unfortunate occurrence regarding Sean Matthew’s Recycled Play exhibition. Instances such as this are the reason that museums and cultural institutions of all types have insurance, and we have begun the process with our insurance company to rectify this situation appropriately.

There are important reasons that institutions ask visitors not to handle artwork, the most important of which is to keep the works and the viewers safe. During the installation process, the decision was made by the artist and the staff to not provide physical barriers that would separate viewers from this work to preserve the original design of the exhibition. In response to this incident, we have engaged our staff and volunteers in rigorous discussion about visitor safety and procedures. We have also increased signage in this exhibition indicating that work should not be touched. We urge the public to be conscientious during their visits to art and historical institutions, to preserve the collections on view and insure the safety of all.

Christopher Schreck