The defacing of Brett Murray’s The Spear this week had South Africa agog - but it’s not the first time art has sparked high emotion.
For some “art critics”, a smear of paint was too mild to show their anger or distaste...
1. The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci has long been attracting vandals. This was, of course, long before she became encased in bulletproof glass. In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal doused the painting with acid. Later that same year a young Bolivian threw a rock at the painting; this resulted in the loss of a speck of pigment near the left elbow, which was later painted over.
2. In 1975 an unemployed school teacher cut dozens of zigzag lines in Rembrandt's Night Watch with a knife before he was wrestled away by guards at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The day before, William de Rijk had been turned away from the museum because he arrived after closing time. He was later diagnosed with a mental disorder and sent to a psychiatric hospital where he committed suicide. The painting was restored, but traces of the cuts still remain.
3. The Little Mermaid, located in the harbour of Copenhagen, has been damaged and defaced so many times since the mid-1950s that in 2007, officials announced that the statue may be moved further out in the harbour to avoid further vandalism and to prevent tourists from climbing on to it. The main focus of vandalism for the statue has been decapitation. But arguably her most undignified moment came in 2006 when green paint was poured over the statue and a dildo was attached to her hand.
4. In 1987, a man named Robert Cambridge entered the National Gallery in London with a sawn-off shotgun concealed under his coat. He then shot the painting The Virgin and Child with St Anne and St John the Baptist by Leonardo da Vinci from a distance of about two metres. The pellets did not penetrate the protective glass, but shattered it, and the splinters caused significant damage to the artwork. Cambridge told the police that he wanted to express his disgust with “political, social and economic conditions in Britain”. He was placed in a mental institution. The restoration of the painting took more than a year to complete.
5. In 2007, police arrested artist Rindy Sam after she kissed the all-white canvas of Phaedrus by Cy Twombly, leaving a red lipstick mark. The artwork, which was worth an estimated R23-million was on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Avignon, France. First attempts to remove the mark using about 30 various chemicals were unsuccessful. Sam was tried in a court in Avignon for “voluntary degradation of a work of art”. She defended herself by saying to the court: “It was just a kiss, a loving gesture. I kissed it without thinking; I thought the artist would understand... “ Sam was convicted and ordered to pay 1 000 euros (about R10 500) to the painting's owner, 500 euros to the Avignon gallery, and 1 euro to the painter.