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Four art installations that went horribly wrong


Abstract sculptor Henry Moore once said that “to be an artist is to believe in life.” If that is the case, then you also have to embrace the absurdity of the human comedy too. Not everything in life goes as planned, the same goes for art itself. As the man once said, “Sometimes you eat the bear and something the bear eats you.”

However, there are some occasions in the art world, when eventual disaster should surely have been forecast from the very start. In the collated list below, the overriding question is often: ‘How did you not see this coming’. The answer is rather simple too, sometimes we can all simply be blindsided by a grand idea and logistics hit the hay. 

From meteorite hoaxes to performance art that almost resulted in murder and even the Museum of Modern Art almost going up in flames, these four examples are in an important portent for any would-be creative with a daring idea.

Sometimes brilliant, sometimes farcical, art on the edges is best braced with careful tiptoes. 

Four art installations that went wrong:

The Meteorite Landing

When a creative agency in Riga, Latvia were tasked with launching a new phone tariff with the simple brief of creating something superhero themed, their first 100 suggestions failed to pass muster. In a last ditched effort, they went big. They went meteoric, in fact, literally. Or at least almost literally as the agency set about orchestrating a meteor landing in the field of rural Latvia. 

In the dead of night, a small crew of people drove about three hours away from the Latvian capital to an abandoned field. They dug a crater. They filled the crater with a meteor-like metallic substance used in the movies and set a roaring great fire. They reported it and awaited the inevitable fanfare. 

In an hour or so, a collection of fire engines had become entrapped in the boggy field. Reporters’ clothes were ruined and even the army was summoned. Nobody in attendance cared much about the inconvenience, they were simply utterly enchanted by this magical occurrence. Thus, you can imagine the wrath that the creative agency faced when it was all revealed to be a promotional art installation. 

The public raged ‘what happened if there had been a real fire while the whole force was stranded in a field?’ The creative agency had no answers and they admitted that they inadvertently put lives at risk. When one of the unnamed executives of the company was reading the newspaper in the following days, he came across a quote saying, ‘What sort of mother could raise children stupid enough to do this?’ The quote was attributed to his own mother. 

The Looney Tunes Hole

Realism and Looney Tunes are two terms that don’t often go together. The British-Indian sculptor Anish Kapoor sought to bridge this gaping gap between cartoon and reality. It was a great disaster. Kapoor named his reality-bending installation Descent into Limbo, but perhaps Descent into A&E might have been more apt. 

Kapoor constructed a classic Looney Tunes Hole in the ground. His twist, however, was that it was actually a hole in the ground. Beneath the black circle was an eight-foot drop. Although the gallery had posted warnings of this, one curious fellow, presumably called Mr Wile E. Coyote stepped over the hole and endured the inevitable descent. Needless to say, dropping eight-foot unexpectedly resulted in a pretty bad injury for the hapless cartoonish fool who took the plunge. 

The Decomposing Fish Experiment

When the artist Lee Bul was musing upon what we find beautiful and why she sought to tackle the narrative in a curious new fashion. Her idea was to disavow pretty colours, sweeping curves and picturesque scenes and instead she decided to jazz up some decaying fish. 

Her intent was to explore the notion that “Feminine desirability is a social construct that makes few allowances for corporeal deterioration.” Thus, she gave a pamper to some eroding fish and uncovered “the fleeting nature of beauty for highly ornamented women.” She also discovered an important science lesson on the process of decay. 

To stop the MoMA from being filled with an ungodly smell, Bul filled her fishy art packages with Potassium Permanganate. The issue was that this stench-preventing chemical reacted with the gasses emitted during the decay process and literally exploded. While the blaze was fairly minor, it nevertheless answered the question of whether rotting fish could ever be considered beautiful. 

Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0

In the early 1960s, Yoko Ono embarked on a performance art experiment called Cut Piece during which she sat on stage alone dressed in her best suit, with a pair of scissors in front of her. The audience then approached her to use the scissors to cut off a small piece of her clothing, which was remained theirs to keep. “When I do the Cut Piece, I get into a trance, and so I don’t feel too frightened.…We usually give something with a purpose…but I wanted to see what they would take….There was a long silence between one person coming up and the next person coming up. And I said it’s fantastic, beautiful music, you know? Ba-ba-ba-ba, cut! Ba-ba-ba-ba, cut! Beautiful poetry, actually,” she said.

Ten years later, Marina Abramovic took things a step further. Along with scissors, she laid out 72 objects including a rose, a feather, a whip, a scalpel, a gun, a bullet, a slice of chocolate cake. At one point, audience members became concerned about how extreme things were getting. Even a loaded gun was held to the artist’s head, and she recalls “I was ready to die.” 

With the audience embroiled in a debate about how sadist they should be, a huge fight soon broke out. If that was the goal of the experimental piece then it certainly succeeded but some critics described it as one of the most harrowing gallery experiences that they have ever endured.