Art is both a precious commodity and a significant cultural symbol of our time. The museums and art centers that display the works are public domains, in which anything is likely to happen. Throw a bunch of publicity loving crackpots, wannabe performance artists, youthful vandals, social protesters, and accident-prone eccentrics into the mix and you enter the damage zone, where art gets hurt — or at the very least, publicly humiliated. After recently reading about a portrait of Mao Zedong getting shot because its hallucinating owner thought it was the actual Chinese despot in his house, we decided to investigate other tales of artful accidents involving works by celebrated artists — ranging from Monet and Picasso to Warhol and Serrano — and bullet holes, crowbars, felt-tip pens, and flying elbows and fists.
Two bullet holes in Andy Warhol’s 1972 screenprint of Mao didn’t deter a collector from buying it for $302,500 — 10 times the high presale estimate of $30,000 — at Christie’s in New York last month. The reason the piece was coveted has to do with the shooter as much as it has to do with the artist and subject matter. During a wild night in the 1970s, Dennis Hopper got spooked by the picture and shot it twice. Warhol loved the results and annotated the holes with circles and the words “warning shot” and “bullet hole,” which made the work an unplanned collaboration.
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