Artworld Gaffes of 2017

Katie Smith, September 25, 2017

There is an autumn chill in the air as the UK Art World transitions from summer exhibitions to the closing season of 2017. As we look ahead towards 2018 we could review the notable successes of British Artists and Institutions so far this year… Or just for a moment, we can choose not to linger on past glories and instead consider those unfortunate events which we must now view with good humour in hindsight:

Diamonds Aren’t Forever…

In July 2017, The British Museum admitted that it had ‘misplaced’ a £750,000 diamond ring - back in 2011! The Cartier piece was deemed missing after several searches for the jewel produced nothing. This led to the Museum reporting a loss to police six years later! Art crime lecturer Donna Yates told The Guardian “…Maybe it was stolen. Maybe someone’s sleeve brushed against it and it tumbled into a heating grate. Maybe it was accidentally filed away in the wrong box…” It appears the trail has gone cold.

‘The Domino Effect’

How about the infamous 14th Factory ‘selfie’? The LA incident became a social media sensation when a visitor to the art installation, by British artist Simon Birch, sent various small artworks flying. As the tourist leant backwards to take her ill-fated photograph she toppled the display plinth behind her which struck another and another until the entire gallery space resembled a lost game of Jenga. The 14th Factory closed its LA chapter on 30th July 2017 (its website attributes no blame stating that it had already ‘extended its run multiple times’). Game over!


Who can forget the drill-bit stabbing of William Hallet and Elizabeth Stephens? The couple’s portrait, otherwise known as ‘The Morning Walk’, was damaged by an agitated National Gallery visitor who managed to scratch the painting with the DIY implement in March 2017. The idyllic country scene by Gainsborough was saved further damage by brave staff and public whom restrained the offending individual until police arrived.

Toilet Triumph Or Tribulation?

Although none of the aforementioned circumstances have been cheerful, at least one art world gaffe is set to be happily concluded with the restoration of Banksy’s ‘Snorting Copper’ to be unveiled in October 2017. The original piece (depicting a policeman sniffing powder from the pavement) was painted on a public toilet in East London - it was the trendiest toilet in all of London, for some time at least…

Council Cover Up

Due to the location of the piece in an area of continued vandalism, Hackney Council painted over the drug-addled policeman in 2005 (it is not known whether they were aware of the significance of the graffiti). The location of Banksy’s work was then forgotten; a lost luminous moment in the lifetime of the lavatory… Until recently, when property developer Jonathan Ellis heard rumours regarding the hidden artwork, and purchased the site with the intention of development.

Cocaine Copper Exposed

Jonathan told The New York Times ‘Because it had been painted over, we didn’t actually know what was going to be salvageable, or what was left … We were building there, so we had to explain to the builders — without telling them what was underneath it — that they had to protect this bit of wall.’ Jonathan’s gamble came up trumps when the ‘Snorting Copper’ was rediscovered, restored, and is presently ‘valued at £1.25m…’

Banksy’s Back In Town

 ‘…Mr Ellis says he does not want to sell it’ according to The Guardian newspaper, which explains that ‘instead he will put the restored…piece on display at its original location on October 5th.’ Therefore it seems that Hackney Council’s gaffe will become the public’s gain as the once obscure latrine mural is reinstated with pride of place; no longer a privy picture but instead the recognisable hallmark of the anonymous British artist.

Good Luck!

As we near the end of September the year is far from over; three precious months remain and with time comes the opportunity for further artworld gaffes to occur before the close of 2017. As autumn leaves begin to fall in earnest, and icy winter descends, let us keep our mittened fingers crossed in the hope that all remaining events and exhibitions go smoothly (but not too seriously) as planned. 


Written by Katie Smith - Executive Assistant at Alchemy Recruitment Ltd

Posted in categories: Contemporary Art, Fine Art
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