Museum Patron Sits On, Breaks Rare Chair

St. Paul Pioneer Press: June 5, 2000


A patron at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts on Sunday disregarded a do-not-touch sign, climbed atop a display platform and sat down on a chair dating to the Ming Dynasty, breaking it in three places.

The late-16th century hardwood folding chair, part of the museum’s well-known Asian Art Collection, broke along its horseshoe-shaped back.

“We were very fortunate — the chair backing broke on old fault lines,” said Evan Maurer, museum director. “It’s been broken before; that’s where it failed. It can be repaired much more easily.”

Maurer would not provide the assessed valuation of the piece, which has been in the museum collection for about three years. But it's believed to be worth at least six figures as a standout among Ming Dynasty relics  and internationally recognized as "a rare type.”

The chair already is packed up to be sent to the London-based restorer who previously worked on the piece. Maurer could not say when or if the piece would return to the museum's collection.

MIA officials interviewed the man responsible for the break, but Maurer said no charges will be filed. “It was a terrible mistake, and he felt terrible about it.” The museum has, however, reconfigured security measures. He declined to specify what those are.

Such damage is a first for the museum.

“Nothing like this ever happened,” Maurer said. “We’re very concerned about the incident but grateful the object hasn’t been irreparably damaged.”

About 5,000 people on Sunday visited the museum, which has a permanent collection and hosts traveling exhibits — including “Star Wars: The Magic of Myth.”

The accident coincided with the last day of that popular show.