The elbow felt round the world one year ago belonged to casino developer Steve Wynn, who, while showing off his Pablo Picasso masterpiece La Rêve to a group of friends that included Barbara Walters, Nora Ephron, Louise Grunwald and Georgette Mosbacher, gestured enthusiastically toward the painting and accidentally shoved his funny bone straight through the canvas. As Ephron would later describe it in an account published on the Huffington Post, the result was “a black hole the size of a silver dollar…with two three-inch-long rips coming off it in either direction.” Adding to the fuss, which was reported breathlessly by countless news outlets, was the ensuing cancellation of Wynn’s impending sale of the painting to financier Steven A. Cohen for $139 million—$90.6 million more than he had paid for the piece nine years earlier.
While Wynn’s debacle was clearly on the dramatic side, it wasn’t the first time a piece of art had suffered injury, either through negligence, ignorance or plain old bad luck. It is, tragically, not so rare for a masterpiece to lose millions in value or be demolished altogether.But only a handful of these cases—like the 2001 incident in which a Damien Hirst assemblage of ashtrays, cigarette butts and empty beer bottles was mistaken for trash by a janitor at London’s Eyestorm gallery and thrown out—ever make the papers.
“The stories are countless,” says gallery owner Zach Feuer. In fact, such a tragedy befell the very first piece of art he ever sold, though it was hardly a record-breaking sale. “My grandma bought a $600 Lansing-Dreiden piece from me, just to be nice. It was done with Sharpie on glass, and my grandmother didn’t believe it could really be so ephemeral. She was constantly touching it—every time I’d go to her house I’d see new fingerprints on it. One day she Windexed it, and that was the end.”