June 26, 2022

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

We don’t live very comfortably with art. There are other types of valuable items that we can more easily coexist with: sports memorabilia, antique furniture, musical instruments, luxury watches, and handbags. We handle and carry and touch these things, perhaps because we have a feeling that they are objects with a specific purpose or purpose. But the status of “art” often elevates the object to something we find it difficult to live with naturally.

Seeing this is like seeing someone else’s nightmare.

There are practical reasons for this. Art should often be encountered visually, on the display, beyond the reach of the fingers. It can be fragile and permanently protected – especially if we have decided that it needs to be preserved as part of our cultural heritage. And yet I watched the video of Picasso falling over and over and felt no dismay, but a hint of childlike joy. It was a vague violation to watch the usual rules – handle with caution, proceed with caution – so casually broken. A limit has been crossed. This was the reverse of another transformation: when a forgotten canvas in an attic is recognized as Rembrandt or Van Gogh and suddenly gains meaning and value. Here we can see the opposite. For a very short time, a painting by Pablo Picasso becomes an everyday object that falls on the floor and is picked up again. (The thief also turned the art into something pedestrian; during the robbery he is said to have told the police that he cut his hand.

Before I saw this video, I thought I was sick of the art. I write about it for a living, among other things, but after a year without museums, I did not have the expected desire to return. It was only after watching this video repeatedly that it occurred to me: What I was fed up with wasn’t art, but the predictability of how we would encounter it. It’s always at a distance, often behind glass, often in sterile galleries reminiscent of airports. Much of the art in the world is completely absent; the financial value of works of art has led more and more collectors to purchase them as an asset and store them unseen in air-conditioned safes.