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VOL. 40 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 19, 2016

Artwork defacer was only following instructions

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The bus arrived at Nuremberg’s Neues Museum. That would be in Germany. A group disembarked. Among them was a 91-year-old woman, whose name has not been released at this time. For purposes of this column, we shall call her Frau K.

Frau K. found herself attracted to a work by a German artist called Arthur Kopcke (1928-1977). This painting was labeled “Reading-Work-Piece” and, I am guessing, had a number next to that phrase.

I so guess because in the mid-1960s Kopcke began to generate an oil-on-canvas series, which he himself called Reading-Work-Pieces. They were based on various and sundry materials that people might encounter on a daily basis, including picture puzzles, perception tests, scholarly texts and crossword puzzles.

A source that I came upon while researching Kopcke made reference to “Reading-Work-Pieces nos. 24-32 & 124, c. 1965.” A photo with a blurb about him showed that these paintings integrated clippings from print media sources.

I am also guessing that Frau K. is a crossword nerd. As she seems to have strolled up to this 1977 Kopcke painting, which has, as a part of it, a crossword puzzle. According to The Telegraph’s Justin Huggler, who wrote about this incident back in July, beside the piece, though apparently a part of it, was a sign that read, “Insert words.”

So, guess what Frau K. did. If you said, “She filled in the puzzle with a ball point pen,” then give yourself a smiley-faced pencil!

Frau K. was later heard to say something like, “If they didn’t want people to follow the artist’s directions, they should put up a sign to make that clear!” To the police!

Wouldn’t you love to have listened in on that interrogation?

“Now, Frau K., for 7-Across, you wrote in sprang rather than sprung. Why is that, when the clue is ‘Freed from the slammer, say’?”

“Because of the crosser! Don’t you see right here – four letters, with the clue ‘Called’?! R blank N G.”

Museum director Eva Kraus said that the damage was not permanent and was easily reparable. The value of the painting was estimated at 80,000 euros, but restoration was expected to cost only a few hundred. She said the museum was prepared to pick up the tab.

“The private collector who presented the work to the museum took the incident in good humor,” she said. Kraus said that everyone understands “that the old lady didn’t mean any harm.” Somewhat apologetically, she blamed the museum’s insurance company for the necessity of filing a criminal complaint.

She also said that she had let Frau K. know of the decision not to press her for the cost of restoration. And the collector’s having taken the incident lightly. Seems she wanted to spare Frau K. “a sleepless night.”

Word is that the museum intends to spare crossword aficionados future embarrassment by nipping temptation in the bud with amended labeling of this item. I should think that something along these lines might work:

PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE ARTIST’S SIGN SUGGESTING THAT YOU “INSERT WORDS.” IN FACT, DO NOT INSERT WORDS … UNDER PENALTY OF LAW!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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