Tourist Damages 19th-Century Antonio Canova Artwork

A partial transcript from Episode 21 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Scroll down to listen to the full radio show.

I have stated in previous episodes that these are difficult times for art galleries and museums. Many of them around the world have had to close their doors since the outbreak. This has caused great financial strains and simply put, many will not survive these strains.

Over the past weeks, I talked about my trips to various museums in Prague. And I understand the challenges that museums and galleries are faced with in reopening. It’s not easy.

But recently, I heard a story that I thought was a bit odd and interesting enough to share with you here. Reportedly, a visitor to the Museo Antonio Canova in Possagno, Italy, damaged a plaster model of a 19th-century sculpture recently, while trying to take a selfie with the artwork. Apparently this visitor sat on the work, causing two of its toes to break off.

The model that was damaged corresponds to a pretty important marble sculpture by Antonio Canova, which depicts Napoleon Bonaparte’s sister Pauline posing as Venus, the Roman goddess of love.

Now, the museum plans to restore the work and the visitor was identified and after reading that he had made the news, he offered to pay for restorations. I can only imagine how mortified he must have felt.

I’m not going to be a real boomer about it and start saying that this is another story that shows how the newer technologies have helped the spread of ignorance and bad manners. I know that’s kind of a popular narrative but I don’t actually believe that at all.

I think technology has done more good than harm for the arts, especially in terms of accessibility. But I will say that this strange little event does reflect a lot of how people now experience the museums. Not so much about an inability of living in the moment but making that moment as appealing to our friends on social media as possible.

I don’t see anything wrong with using artworks and integrating them in the stories that we tell about ourselves on social media. Because that’s essentially what most of us do on social media — we write the story of our own lives. That’s what we project, whether we even want to or not. And I’m sure that most of us would never dream of sitting on a museum artwork, especially one from the 19th century.

But what I thought was also interesting about this whole affair is that, especially for the past weeks, we have been hearing a lot about monuments being damaged everywhere as a result of outrage and as a form of protest. I have even talked about it in the past and there’s a clip from an episode of the show about it on my YouTube channel.

And so, an episode like what happened to the Antonio Canova model reminds us that artworks, obviously, can be and often are damaged in other ways — because of carelessness, ignorance and lack of respect. And to me, this is another story that shows just how vulnerable and even fragile cultural heritage really is.

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