Gumming Up The Works

by Jimmy Akin

in Art


A young boy has learned an expensive lesson: The painting pictured to the left was not a trash receptacle for his wad of gum. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

"A 12-year-old visitor to the Detroit Institute of Arts stuck a wad of gum to a $1.5 million painting, leaving a stain the size of a quarter, officials say.


"The gum stuck to the painting’s lower left corner and did not adhere to the fiber of the canvas, officials told the Detroit Free Press. But it left a chemical residue about the size of a quarter, said Becky Hart, assistant curator of contemporary art.


"’Even though we give very strict guidelines on proper behavior and we hold students to high standards, he is only 12 and I don’t think he understood the ramifications of what he did before it happened, but he certainly understands the severity of it now [that he has been suspended and disciplined by his parents],’ said [school director Julie] Kildee."


I certainly hope that Ms. Kildee is correct that the boy did not intend harm, but stories like this have me shaking my head over how much longer it takes children to mature these days than it did fifty to one hundred years ago. Or, even twenty-five years ago, considering that when I was twelve most kids knew better than to stick a wad of gum to an artwork. They might stick it to the underside of the desk, which does show immaturity, but they knew better than to stick it to a painting.

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Momma K March 3, 2006 at 4:32 am

Bad behavior on the part of the 12 year old boy, but compare and contrast with what is “ART” produced by so called adults–(pictures of Mary with elephant dung on them and female genitals)
The lack of maturity is from being surrounded by immature adults in charge (my theroy)

Tim J. March 3, 2006 at 5:26 am

Yes, the boy should have known better. That being said, though, it looks like the gum may have been an improvement.

RickK March 3, 2006 at 5:37 am

I am assuming the picture with this post is the painting that the boy put the gum on. Perhaps the boy was simply being an art critic? What exactly makes that painting worth $1.5 Million? I think it is probably obvious to many children that what many adults call art these days is not any different than what is created in art class in grade schools. Adding gum to the picture above would seem to be in character with the painting – if it was blue raspberry bubble gum then I would be supprised anyone noticed.
So no he should not have put gum on the painting, but whenever I see “art” which looks like a kindergarden project I feel like doing the same thing.

iClaudius March 3, 2006 at 5:44 am

How could anyone tell the difference. The painting itself looks like a big wad of gum.

Naomi March 3, 2006 at 6:44 am

I think you’re just being witty, but!
Are you saying that aesthetic objections mitigate vandalism?

Tim J. March 3, 2006 at 7:06 am

Of course not, Naomi.
People should never leave trash behind them in places such as this… some well-meaning art collector might come along and offer to purchase a lump of discarded gum (or wadded napkin, or candy wrapper), thinking it a brilliant comment on post industrial consumer society.
That might prove embarassing for the gallery director.
No, this story just happens to highlight two modern problems at once; we increasingly don’t know how to control our kids, and we don’t know how to make or recognize great art.
Instead we display blobs like the one pictured and call it genius.

Alan Phipps March 3, 2006 at 7:12 am

12 years old? I know college-aged students who could easily done this. That’s what’s sad about the world today :(

Realist March 3, 2006 at 7:13 am

Art works of such value are typically covered with non-glare glass, Plexiglas and/or polycarbonate. So why not in this case? I also assume, the insurance company would insist on this type of protection.
Could it have been a copy with the original stored in a vault? This is apparently common practice. Considering the painting, it would be an easy “art work” to copy.

Tim J. March 3, 2006 at 7:17 am

I rarely see glass-covered art, unless the piece is a bona fide cultural icon, like the Mona Lisa, or something. Covering every piece would be very expensive.
Glass also interferes with the experience of viewing the art (glare), but in this case, that would be no bad thing.

mike March 3, 2006 at 8:02 am

“Are you saying that aesthetic objections mitigate vandalism?”
Possibly the boy, himself, is a great artist. It may be wrong to deny him the ability to improve the piece.

Paul H March 3, 2006 at 8:37 am

Wait… Are you all saying that the picture with this blog entry is a picture of the painting — i.e., the entire painting? I honestly thought it was a close-up of the corner of the painting, and that the blue splotch was the wad of gum in question. Wow.

Anonymous March 3, 2006 at 8:37 am

I really believed that the picture showed the gum… they call that art?

ELC March 3, 2006 at 9:27 am

I think the 12-year-old was merely engaging in what might be called material-based derivative performance art. He should probably try to get an NEA grant.

Mike March 3, 2006 at 9:32 am

“I think the 12-year-old was merely engaging in what might be called material-based derivative performance art. He should probably try to get an NEA grant.”
I like the way you think.

Adrian March 3, 2006 at 11:18 am

Paul H, I had the same impression. I was trying to figure out how that shape fit with the rest of painting until it dawned on me that the pic was the painting. And no, bad art is not an excuss for vandalism.

Realist March 3, 2006 at 11:24 am

Tim J.,
Not protecting a $1.5 million painting gives credence that it was not the original. And heck, I have anti-glare plastic covering my Walmart- purchased art.

John March 3, 2006 at 11:31 am

$1.5 million? You really have to be dumb to shell out that kind of money for that garbage. I’d pay $15 to have that paint stain removed from my driveway.

Old Zhou March 3, 2006 at 11:32 am

1. The museum is at fault for not protecting/preserving the painting. This is the main thing. The fact that it took a 12 year old made this glaringly clear in the media should be a good reason for the museum staff to hang their heads in shame. Maybe some people at the museum don’t think this painting is all that “important.”
2. The 12-year old kid was being mischevious. This is not news. But when an adult broke 200 year-old Chinese vases valued at 100,000 pounds at a British museum in February, he was just “an accident.”
3. I don’t much care for modern abstract art, but that is irrelevant. However, I don’t think the kid would be inclined to stick his gum on, say, an 18th century landscape scroll from China or Japan, or a Bierstadt painting of the American wilderness. I think there is something about the abstract blue “blobness” of the work that calls out for gum.

Nancy March 3, 2006 at 1:32 pm

So what does Dr. Ray have to say about this?

Anonymous March 3, 2006 at 7:30 pm

Blackout for a month.
No, get a job and pay off the million…

Realist March 4, 2006 at 11:39 am

The wisdom of the “Old Zhou” is first rate.
The museum probably does not want to admit that the original is in the vault. When one pays $10-20 entrance fees, one wants to see the real thing. Ah, the dirty/gummy little secrets of museums!!!

Jay March 4, 2006 at 12:49 pm

Chill. How is a 12 year old supposed to recognize what goes for “art” nowadays. The following really happened. Look for it on the web if you like. Some German sanitation workers found a bicycle chained to a tree, so they cut it loose and stored it away. They were then forced to take “art sensitivity” training because they had vandalized an artwork!

RyanHerr March 5, 2006 at 10:31 am

The comments of this post make me wonder: Tim J, are you planning on continuing the “But is it Art?” series?

Tim J. March 5, 2006 at 10:35 am

Ryan –
Yes, I are!
I have been cruelly hampered by some paying work, of late, among other things. But it’s coming.

Jean March 5, 2006 at 6:19 pm

Ok, let me just step in here and tell you something about the Detroit Institute of Arts. First of all, it’s not owned by Detroit; it’s now a nonprofit since the city decided it couldn’t afford to run it (and wanted to sell off major pieces). Right now, it’s undergoing the last year of construction to expand the building, so the current portion of the collection is fit into a fairly limited two-floor wing.
There are no duplicates on display. (What would be the point of owning originals then? Duh!)These are originals. There is no glass around the art except for small statues and very delicate items like Egyptian jars and preColumbian figures. There are no velvet ropes except around furniture that unwitting patrons (especially kids) might mistakenly sit in. The founders of the museum were very wealthy people who really wanted “common folk” to experience art the way they themselves did in their own mansions.
As a result, you can get close to Van Gogh’s self-portrait and the Diego Rivera murals. But security (and the docents and teachers) all let visitors know to keep at LEAST 12 inches from the paintings. I’ve taken my teenaged students on tour every year, and they know the drill: no gum, no bags, check your coats, and get a camera pass. Ms. Kildee is a fool; she’s lucky if the DIA doesn’t ban her school from visiting for a few years, at the very least.
Sure, the DIA is taking a chance that some idiot will try to damage something, but it’s a lot better than museums where you have to carry opera glasses to see the works behind the security barricade. My students have been particularly impressed, for example, by the tiny details in some of Picasso paintings and the sinister “men in black” in Bruegel’s “The Wedding Dance” (not to mention their hysterical laughter when they notice the codpieces!)
This is, by the way, the common way to display things in Michigan museums. It has its drawbacks: e.g., I saw two morons in their 50s sitting on a stagecoach at the Henry Ford Museum (clearly roped off and marked “Do Not Touch”). They got their photo; then they got busted when they tried to open the doors of Rosa Parks’ bus.
As for the relative artistic merit of the pieces… well, that’s open to interpretation. I personally don’t “get” MirĂ³’s self-portrait or Henry Moore’s sculptures. But I also notice that the abstracts tend to be labelled “gift” rather than “purchase”. Somebody writing off their bad investment? :)

Jean March 5, 2006 at 6:25 pm

FYI: I pay about $5 to get into the DIA and the kids pay $3. Little kids pay less than that. The only place that I ever paid a scandalous amount was the Boston Museum of Fine Arts – and the security guards didn’t even notice when a kid walked up and started tickling the ivories of a harpsichord. (Nor did the parents.)

Realist March 5, 2006 at 8:01 pm

Are you sure? References to how museums display/protect their paintings? Might want to check with the insurance companies selling the policies for these paintings. And if you can’t touch the paintings, how do you know that there is not a thin piece of non-glare plastic sheeting covering the painting? Or sensor alarms on the backing? Or hidden security cameras? And if there is no security, “why oh why risk” it? Hmmm, might it not be the original? Or do you work for security at the DIA?

Tim J. March 5, 2006 at 8:41 pm

Jean, Don’t sweat trying to prove anything to Realist.
He seems to be allergic to the Official Story of anything, and values nothing more highly than his own opinions.
I have seen a number of great, original masterpieces, and only remember very few being covered with anything.
Yes, Realist, they were originals and, no, it can’t be proved mathematically, though it can be proved to the satisfaction of any reasonable intellect.
But hey, I also believe we really went to the moon in 1969, so what do I know?

Realist March 6, 2006 at 6:52 am

Tim J.,
I assume none of your art courses included museum security methods??

Jean March 6, 2006 at 12:17 pm

Realist, I’m assuming you’re genuinely curious. Yes, I know about the security and the insurance policies of the DIA. It is well-known for its security measures, actually. That is why it has been one of the few venues that hosted the “Angels in the Vatican” tour or, more recently, the Rodin & Claudel exhibition.
To clear up a couple of common misconceptions: Plastic sheeting would ruin most of the artwork. In fact, one of the truly sad truths is that many people destroy their artwork by attempting to protect it with glass or acrylic casing because many of the media, such as oil paint, needs to “breathe”. The DIA has had to restore many pieces that were damaged during storage or transporting. Bruegel the Elders’s “Wedding Dance”, for example, still has creases from when it was folded and stored a few hundred years ago.
Replicas cannot be substituted for originals in the DIA. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice to say that it’s unethical to pass a copy off as an original and it’s not cost-effective to duplicate the masterworks anyway.

Tim J. March 6, 2006 at 12:21 pm

Having re-read my last post above, I now apologize for the unwarranted snarky tone.
Realist and I have locked horns often, and I went off without thinking.
It was late, I was tired, the dog ate my homework…

Mary March 6, 2006 at 1:00 pm

“2. The 12-year old kid was being mischevious. This is not news. But when an adult broke 200 year-old Chinese vases valued at 100,000 pounds at a British museum in February, he was just ‘an accident.'”
Old Zhou: I have to laugh. Did you happen to catch “This Hour Has 22 Minutes” the week that happened? (For those of you not in the know, it’s a fake news show on the CBC, kinda like the Daily Show, but I think it’s been on longer, and a lot of the jokes are “in” Canadian jokes.) They reported on the story, saying that the museum visitor tripped over a shoelace, lost his balance, fell down some stairs and broke 2 Chinese vases. Then the punchline. “Police are looking for this man.” (picture of Mr. Bean in the upper corner of screen). I laughed hysterically. It DOES sound like something he would do…

Realist March 6, 2006 at 2:23 pm

Jean and Tim J.,
I do appreciate the information. To be perfectly honest, if I were in charge of securing paintings worth millions, displaying copies and “vaulting” the originals would be very cost effective. Please keep us informed about the gumming incident and what the final outcome was. Cleaning, insurance payment, added security etc.

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