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Torn Picasso Raises Delicate Question: How Close is Too Close?

PicassoActorA woman who fell into a Picasso and tore a six inch hole in the canvas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, raises the delicate question, once again, about how accessible rare works should be in a public museum.

Museum director Thomas P. Campbell plans to to request a review of relevant policies and procedures as a result of the accident, spokeswoman Elyse Topalian said.

The Met like many museums allows patrons to get up close to some of the world’s greatest paintings, better to appreciate the subtle brush strokes and colors used to create the masterpieces. But the policy comes with a price.

The woman was one of 14 people in the guided group touring the museum during regular hours. Art class attendees are typically free to roam through the museum and examine works of interest.

The Picasso in question, called “The Actor,” from the artist’s rose period, suffered an irregular 6-inch tear to the lower right-hand corner of the canvas, which measures 6-feet, by four-feet.

The masterpiece, valued at $130 million, is considered significant because it a marks a key transition for the artist.

It signaled a shift from his blue period, characterized by tattered beggars and blind musicians, to his more optimistic rose period, featuring brighter colors and paintings of itinerant acrobats in costume.

Picasso painted the work in the winter of 1904-05.

Thelma Chrysler Foy, the elder daughter of auto magnate Walter Chrysler, donated “The Actor” to the Met in 1952. The work is well known in the art world and has been featured in exhibits across the United States and Europe.

Fortunately, because of the painting’s size and the location of the tear, museum officials said they “fully expect” that the restoration to be “unobtrusive.”

The repair should be finished in time to include the work in an exhibition of 250 Picasso works drawn from the museum’s collection, from April 27 to Aug. 1, the museum said.

Although the accident will likely heighten public interest in the painting, it’s value will likely be diminished.

In 2001, casino mogul Steve Wynn, was showing a 1932 portrait of Picasso’s mistress, Marie-Therese Walter, to a group of friends in Las Vegas when he inadvertently poked a thumb-size hole in the canvas.

The painting was about to be sold for a record $139 million. Because of the tear, the sale fell through and the painting’s estimated value fell to $85 million.

That’s a hefty price to pay when paintings are damaged, but accidents are infrequent enough to keep art open and accessible to the public, as the artist undoubtedly would want it.

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