A Sculpture’s Crash Landing at the Royal Academy

The installation of five totem poles by artist Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez. One of the totems was recently destroyed by a visitor at the Royal Academy.

The line between exhibition space and viewer space is sometimes clear and sometimes not. It is clear when there are security guards at the ready, telling you to move back if you step too near a sculpture. I’ve had many a motion sensor beep me away when I’ve leaned in too far while looking at a painting. Works can be behind plexi; on podiums; or cordoned off. These are all clear ways for them, the show makers, to let us, the visitors, know where we stand, literally. But some curators reject putting up barriers between artwork and visitor. And I can respect that, even applaud it, because I’m down with the whole “art should be experienced without filters or physical barriers” thing. But sometimes that can totally backfire, and I would not want to be the one holding the bag when things go terribly wrong.

Last week at the Royal Academy in London, a visitor at the Summer Exhibition stumbled into a group of sculptures by Costa Rican artist Tatiana Echeverri Fernandez and sent one of them—a piece that exhibition organizer and artist Tracey Emin called one of the stars of the show—tumbling to the floor, where it shattered into hundreds of pieces. So as much as I appreciate the opportunity to get close to works, I really think that next time, Tracey, you should save us clumsy viewers the nightmarishly awful guilt of being responsible for wrecking a really expensive sculpture by just putting it in a case.

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