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A Million Dollar Mistake

February 18, 2022
Three featureless faces on a blank background

Three Figures by Anna Leproskaya

We all do stupid things at work from time to time. Sometimes it’s something harmless like online shopping or listening to podcasts, only serving to relieve some boredom. But in other instances, the way you kill time can be inconceivably costly. And one security guard at a Russian museum discovered this the hard way when he doodled on a painting worth $1 million.

The Yeltsin Center, a museum in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, announced that a painting loaned to them by a state gallery had been vandalized in early December. The painting, Three Figures by the Soviet avant-garde artist Anna Leporskaya, shows three people with featureless faces looking eyelessly back at the viewer. But one security guard, on his first day on the job, I guess decided to improve upon it by adding eyes with a ballpoint pen. The painting was part of an exhibit called The World as Non-Objectivity, and the eyes were only noticed after a pair of visitors brought them to the staff’s attention. One of the museum’s curators described the security guard’s vandalism as “some kind of a lapse in sanity”. The Russian culture ministry sought to have the guard charged with damage to cultural heritage objects, but prosecutors later only charged him with mere vandalism. If convicted, he would have to serve a short prison sentence and pay a fine.

It’s always tragically interesting news when a museum piece gets damaged in an accident. But the situation becomes even more fascinating when the damage is intentional. Even though the pen broke through the topmost layer of paint, representatives of the Yeltsin Center say that specialists at the Tretyakov State Gallery can restore the painting. While the work is insured for about $1 million, specialists estimate that the restoration would only cost $3,300. If it wasn’t clear already, the security guard has been fired.