The Strange Joy of Watching the Police Drop a Picasso

When I was a child, I remember being rushed out of the Museum of Modern Art in New York after trying to touch an Ellsworth Kelly paintin...

When I was a child, I remember being rushed out of the Museum of Modern Art in New York after trying to touch an Ellsworth Kelly painting. I was confused when I heard alarmed voices as I approached the painting, hand outstretched. I couldn’t connect the voices with myself, because what I was doing seemed very logical to me: I was attracted to a deep red, so I wanted to touch it.

We do not live very comfortably with art. There are other kinds of valuable objects with which we coexist more easily: sports memorabilia, antique furniture, musical instruments, luxury watches and handbags. We handle and wear and touch these things, perhaps because we have a sense of them as objects with some use or purpose. But the status of “art” often elevates the object into something with which we struggle to live naturally.

Watching this is like watching someone else’s nightmare.

There are practical reasons for this. Art is often meant to be encountered visually, on display, out of reach of fingers. It can be fragile and require protection to last — especially when we’ve decided it must be preserved as part of our cultural heritage. And yet I watched the video of the falling Picasso over and over, feeling not consternation but a rush of childlike joy. It was a vaguely transgressive experience, to watch the usual rules — handle with care, proceed with caution — be so casually broken. A boundary was crossed. This was the inverse of another transformation: when a forgotten canvas in an attic is recognized as a Rembrandt or a van Gogh, taking on sudden significance and value. Here we get to watch the opposite. Very briefly, a painting by Pablo Picasso becomes a quotidian object, something that falls on the floor and is picked up again. (The thief, too, converted art into something pedestrian; during the heist, he reportedly told the police, he cut his hand, used the 16th-century sketch to wipe it and then discarded the piece in a toilet.)

I thought, before seeing this video, that I was tired of art. I write about it, among other things, for a living, but after a year away from museums, I did not feel the expected desire to return. It was only after watching this video repeatedly that it occurred to me: What I was tired of was not art but the predictability of how we encounter it. It is always at a distance, frequently behind glass, often in sterile galleries that resemble airports. Much of the world’s art is not encountered at all; the financial value of artworks has led more and more collectors to purchase them as investments and store them, unseen, in climate-controlled vaults.

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Newsrust - US Top News: The Strange Joy of Watching the Police Drop a Picasso
The Strange Joy of Watching the Police Drop a Picasso
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