9 Really Dangerous Pieces of Art

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Normally when artwork is described as “dangerous,” it means it challenges the viewer to think and feel outside their comfort zone. But here are nine pieces of art that were not only emotionally dangerous, but physically as well.

1. The Umbrellas

Dddeco, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Starting in the 1960s, married environmental artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude traveled the world, creating artwork that took over and redefined landscapes like the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, a bridge in Paris, and New York City's Central Park. One of their most ambitious projects was The Umbrellas, a simultaneous installation of 3,100 19-foot tall, metal and fabric umbrellas setup across California and Japan in the fall of 1991. The artwork was a huge tourist attraction, with an estimated 3 million visitors during its brief stay.

However, Christo and Jeanne-Claude ended the exhibit earlier than planned after the tragic death of Lori Keevil-Matthews, a 33-year old woman in California, who was crushed when a strong wind blew over one of the nearly-500-pound umbrellas. Tragedy struck again during the dismantling process when Masaaki Nakamura, a 51-year old man in Japan, was electrocuted after the arm of the crane he was operating hit an overhead power line.

2. Dreamspace V

Andy Miah, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Created in 1996 by artist Maurice Algis, Dreamspace V was an 8,200-square foot inflatable network of translucent, polyurethane cells, large enough for people to walk through and explore. The interactive artwork toured the world for ten trouble-free years, receiving thousands of visitors, until an unfortunate accident on July 23, 2006.

During an outdoor festival at Riverside Park in Chester-le-Street, England, a strong gust of wind from an approaching thunderstorm lifted the structure, snapping ropes that were meant to keep it tethered to the ground. One cell phone video and multiple closed-circuit cameras at the site recorded Dreamspace V as it was briefly tossed around like a rag doll before coming to rest against one camera’s pole, which many believe was the only reason it stopped. There were 30 people inside the sculpture at the time, resulting in a dozen injuries, including a 3-year old girl who had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital (thankfully, she survived). Sadly, there were also two fatalities - Claire Furmedge (38) and Elizabeth Collings (68). After a lengthy court battle, Agis was acquitted of manslaughter charges, though he did have to pay a £10,000 fine for violating safety regulations. Here's a grainy CBS News video of the accident.

3 & 4. Sculpture No. 3 and Reading Cones

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When you're an artist whose primary medium is solid steel weighing thousands of pounds, installing your artwork is not an easy task. Such is the case for sculptor Richard Serra, whose giant, metal masterpieces can be seen all over the world, including New York, Paris, and as the only permanent exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (at 180 tons, who'd want to move it?). To put his designs in place, professional steelworkers are employed to ensure everything is done safely; however, accidents do happen.

On November 18, 1975, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, workers were installing Serra's Sculpture No. 3, consisting of two 8-foot square steel plates weighing over 5,000 pounds each. During the construction, one of the support braces holding the plates broke, causing the sheet metal to fall on contractor Raymond Johnson. Johnson's widow sued the artist and the company installing the piece, but both were exonerated of any negligence. However, she did receive a judgment of over $500,000 from the steel fabricator that actually created the sculpture pieces, when it was determined they took a shortcut making the support brace that snapped.

Another Serra piece, Reading Cones, fell on two workers in a New York gallery after heavy-duty jacks malfunctioned during the process of dismantling the sculpture in 1988. The piece, consisting of two slightly curved, 32,000-pound plates, pinned both men to the floor, crushing one man's leg below the knee. When the plate fell, it also broke two of the building's nine support beams, forcing the evacuation of everyone inside until repairs could be made to the now-sagging second floor.

5. Blue Mustang

Bo Insogna, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you've flown into Denver's International Airport in the last few years, you undoubtedly noticed the giant, blue horse with glowing red eyes outside the main terminal. Blue Mustang is a 32-foot tall, 9,000-pound fiberglass sculpture made by renowned artist Luis Jimenez. First commissioned in 1992, the piece was delayed for years due to a necessary redesign of the internal support structures, as well as issues with the artist's health. Then, on June 13, 2006, after finally completing the second of three sections of the statue, a chain broke on the crane used to hoist the piece to another part of the studio for safekeeping. The section fell, pinning Jimenez underneath, and severing his femoral artery. The statue was finished under the supervision of his family and finally installed at the airport in February 2008. Almost as soon as it was unveiled at the airport, many Denverites began lobbying for the statue’s removal. These detractors say they’re disturbed by the demonic steed. Some also believe it could be cursed thanks to its role in Jimenez’s death.

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England's cutting-edge art museum, The Tate Modern, is the most popular modern art gallery in the world, with 4.7 million people passing through the repurposed abandoned power plant every year. Of those millions, a surprisingly high number are injured by the experimental, interactive art pieces, costing the gallery nearly £27,000 in medical claims since 2000. Here are some notable examples.
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6. Bodyspacemotionthings

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Artist Richard Morris’ Bodyspacemotionthings, the Tate Gallery's first interactive art experience, unveiled in 1971, allowed visitors to play on stand-up see-saws, swing on ropes, and roll around in giant, concrete tubes. It was a huge hit, welcoming 2,500 people in its first four days. However, those were also the last four days.

The installation was shut down when, as one guard put it, “they went bloody mad.” Not only were there numerous minor injuries, like splinters from wooden slides and bruised behinds after falling off rolling logs, but the crowd was so rambunctious that they left the exhibit in shambles. But none of this stopped the museum from reviving the event in 2009, using modern design and construction materials that were meant to be safer and more resilient. Still, 23 people were hurt in the new installation's first week, citing everything from rope burns, cut and bruises, and head injuries.

7. Test Site

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Remember going down the slide at recess when you were a kid? It was pretty exciting, huh? Now imagine the slide is 180-feet long and five stories high. That was the concept of Test Site by artist Carston Höller, who installed five slides of varying lengths inside the massive Turbine Gallery at the Tate. During their display, from October 2006 until April 2007, well over 500,000 people took a ride in the stainless steel tubes, howling with glee all the way down. Well, most of them were howling with glee anyway. Five people walked away with fairly severe injuries, including one woman who broke multiple bones in her hand, making it impossible for her to work for nearly three months. She ended up suing the museum and received £3500 compensation for her troubles.

8. Shibboleth 2007

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Visitors to the Tate between October 2007 and April 2008 witnessed an exhibit called Shibboleth 2007, a 548-foot long crack in the concrete floor of the gallery. The crack was meant to symbolize the cultural and racial divide between people and, when the exhibit was over, filled-in to show an emotional and physical scar left behind. After the exhibit ran its course, the Tate was scarred, but so were the 15 people that tripped on the crack during its tenure. Most were not serious injuries – mostly minor ankle and knee sprains - though four claims were severe enough to receive monetary compensation from the museum.

9. Sunflower Seeds

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Over 100 million handmade, porcelain seeds covered the floor of the Tate's Turbine Hall in October 2010 as an exhibit called Sunflower Seeds by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai's intention was for people to physically interact with the seeds by walking over them, picking them up, and sitting on them, while contemplating everything from mass consumption to famine. In the first day, 14,000 visitors came through the exhibit; however, it was because of the show’s popularity that it was closed after only two days. The museum became concerned that the crowds were kicking up too much porcelain dust, which could be harmful if inhaled. Experts said visitors would have to be exposed to the dust for many hours to have even the slightest harmful side-effect, but with all the other health claims the museum has received, they weren't taking any chances. The installation remained in place and could be viewed from afar, but the days of playing in a sea of seeds was over.