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Notable gaffes involving art and artifacts

Sometimes saying "sorry" is not only the hardest word, it's insufficient to make a boo-boo go away.

A New York woman discovered this last Friday when she accidentally lost her balance while attending an art-education class at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and fell into a Pablo Picasso masterpiece. She reportedly was uninjured, but her tumble tore a 15-centimetre vertical gash in The Actor, a large canvas valued by some at $130-million (U.S.).

The museum did not elaborate on why the unidentified woman fell. But it asserted that the tear didn't affect "the focal point of the composition" and it indicated that it should be repaired before the picture is included in a major Picasso retrospective at the museum in April.

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Some other notable gaffes involving art and artifacts:

In the fall of 2006, U.S. casino mogul Steve Wynn inadvertently put his right elbow through Le Rêve, Picasso's famous 1932 portrait of his mistress Marie-Therese Walter, while showing the painting in Las Vegas to several friends. The action put a five-cm tear in Walter's left forearm. Wynn had bought the Picasso in 2001 for almost $50-million (U.S.) and hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen had agreed to pay him $139-million for it, but after the accident Cohen called the deal off.

In October, 2001, staff at a chic gallery in London were forced to go dumpster-diving after a janitor accidentally swept up an installation by prominent British artist Damien Hirst. Called Untitled, the piece was a tableau consisting, in part, of half-full coffee cups, ashtrays with cigarette butts, empty beer bottles, candy wrappers and an easel.

The James Ossuary, which some believe once contained the remains of Jesus's brother, arrived at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto from Tel Aviv in the fall of 2002. Although reportedly worth $2-million (U.S.), the limestone container had developed at least five cracks in transit, the result of having been flown to Canada in a cardboard box filled with bubble wrap.

Marc Quinn calls it an "urban myth," but others insist that it's true. Reportedly a self-portrait bust that Quinn made from nine frozen pints of his own blood melted in the freezer of legendary London art collector Charles Saatchi after decorators working on his kitchen pulled the plug. Quinn's blood busts currently sell for $1-million (U.S.) each and it reportedly takes him at least one year to accumulate the necessary blood.

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