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Vandalism and Art


Lydia Beerkens and Kate Seymour

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Vandalism and Art

1In the summer of 2017 the conference on ‘Vandalism & Art’ took place at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht, initiated by SRAL and organised in collaboration with: SRAL, Bonnefantenmuseum, CeROArt, & MACCH.

2The idea for the theme had been on the mutual agenda for several years, as it is an ever present risk for art displayed in public venues, however the decision of what to include and where to put the focus required some further defining of the subject. SRAL took the initiative to investigate the different types of ‘Vandalism against Art’ and their evidential effects in order to determine clear boundaries between the various acts of vandalism. The result of this informal survey indicated different interpretations of the term ‘vandalism’ and different categories of effects on art works or even the creation of artworks. There seemed also no consensus on what to do when an act of vandalism occurs to an art work. The need for discussion on this theme between stakeholders seemed relevant. A call for submissions for an international meeting was issued in 2016.

3The term ‘Vandalisme’ (Henri Gregoire, 1794), currently relates in the communal consciousness to the intentional damage to public heritage. No matter the cause, the act itself results in damage to the work of art. Acts of vandalism can range from violence, an attack in a museum space against one artwork in particular to the museum as an institute or an outcry against society altogether. Regarded as vandalism may be: destruction by war, graffiti as intentional damage and possibly an artform in itself, demolition for urban planning and restructuring, and damage by neglect and unawareness. In public space vandalism against architectural heritage and monuments on heritage can be instigated by political causes, religious beliefs, psychological motivation or mere aggression. Damage on cultural heritage can range from destruction and theft, via a knife attack, acid attack, spray paint application, hammer attack, throwing paint to graffiti, thus cultural heritage managers have to deal immediately, under scrutiny, with the visually intrusive effects whenever these acts take place. The means of the act may be varied but the effects can be both structurally and aesthetically devastating.

4During the two day conference thirteen presentations were given to an audience of around sixty international delegates from Europe, America and Australia. Presenters were not only conservators and art historians, but also artists and magistrates.

5The presentations showcased different aspects of types of vandalism, ways of behavior of the attacker, and the decision-making on how to respond to specific acts and how to treat the damage. A large variety of artworks that have been vandalised were shown, from old-master paintings to modern art, outdoor sculptures, monumental mosaics and memorials. The restoration of vandalised works of art can be costly and time consuming. From a prevention point of view, it is key to analyse the original reason for an attacker to aim for a specific artwork, museum building or rather a hotspot location. Quick response with cleaning and first aid treatment can prevent further material damage. But sometimes even more importantly immediate and open communication in the first hours after an attack can substantially limit the reputation damage and downsize the exposure of the damage, when shared via social media. The immediate response of social media to acts of vandalism is a new phenomenon that requires prompt managing; a new field for the conservator s of communication.

6The presenters experience and broad overview of the subject provided deep insight that was further shared during a walk through the town of Maastricht and a visit to the ‘free graffiti wall” – an area allocated by the city governance for ‘tagger’s to show their skills.

7This two day conference allowed all stakeholders to share their experiences, exchange ideas and define new polices when dealing with acts of vandalism. Decisions made when treating vandalised art works has been debated through case studies. New protocols for dealing with public awareness and management of social media were addressed. Legal and economic issues and implications were debated. Contributions for this meeting were selected by a committee and volume of extended abstracts is available on request and via CEROART website.

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Electronic reference

Lydia Beerkens and Kate Seymour, « Presentation », CeROArt [Online], HS | 2018, Online since 02 December 2018, connection on 26 May 2019. URL :

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About the authors

Lydia Beerkens

Conservator of modern art, SRAL

Kate Seymour

Head of Education, SRAL

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Licence Creative Commons
CeROArt – Conservation, exposition, restauration d'objets d'arts est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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