Earlier this month I paid a visit to the National Gallery of Canada here in Ottawa, and over at my photoblog I just started a series on the place that will carry on until month's end. Being there also inspired the following blog. Incidentally, the ghost of a cranky painter might not be happy with me for this one.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the committee, I’m Daniel Gallagher, and I am a curator specializing in the Impressionist section at the Gallery. My apologies if I seem a bit nervous... I don’t usually testify before Parliamentary committees. I come today to offer up a full explanation of the events of last week. What we at the Gallery call The Incident. Normally, since Contemporary Art is not my section or area of expertise, I would not be testifying here today. The senior curator in charge of the 20th century portion of the Gallery, Mr. Alistair McCormick, would be here to testify. However, as might be expected under the circumstances, given what happened, Mr. McCormick suffered a nervous breakdown.
Where do we begin? Well, with the culprit himself.
Thomas Alexander Grenville, age seven, of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Known to one and all as Tommy. Had we known he’d be such a source of trouble, we would have never let him in the Gallery’s front door. Tommy and his parents came over for a vacation three weeks ago, and as it turns out, the little bastard... my apologies for the language, but as you can imagine we at the Gallery are not pleased with the boy. Tommy has been a nuisance wherever he has been visiting. It started when his family arrived at Heathrow, and he yelled that the people behind them in the customs line were hijackers. It only got worse from there.
At Westminster Abbey, he tried climbing all over Isaac Newton’s tomb. He spent time in Trafalgar Square yelling at strangers and singing God Help The Queen. Not God Save The Queen, but God Help The Queen. I’ll spare you the lyrics he used, though it went viral on Youtube. Honestly, it’s one thing when a demented local does that, but it’s quite unwelcome when a Yankee punk kid does it. Apparently staff at Lincoln Cathedral managed to stop the wretched brat from getting his grubby paws on their copy of the Magna Carta. Tommy’s next reign of terror was at the Palace where he spent time running around one of the Guards before shoving him in the butt. I expect Her Majesty would not have been amused. At the Tower of London, he kicked a Beefeater in the shin.
We only found out about all this, and believe me, the list goes on, after the fact. If we’d known just how much of a demonic holy terror Tommy was, we’d have kicked him out before he could have gotten in.
You know, after the fact, when we were yelling at his parents, and believe me, there was a lot of yelling going on, because at this point we were all pretty mad. Alastair was starting to go through the beginning of his nervous breakdown. There they were, the two of them, the Grenvilles, smiling in this demented, oblivious way while their... well, as the French would say, their enfant terrible was alternating between yelling at the top of his lungs and holding his breath. And finally the mother told us that they don’t believe in discipline, that they encourage their son to just be himself without anything remotely resembling rules or consequences, and that their Tommy is a... in her words, a spirited, creative angel. That’s what she said. As if what he’d done didn’t really matter. As if she hadn’t brought a hellspawn walking temper tantrum of misbehaviour into the world.
Ladies and gentlemen, I can tell you that since then, we at the Gallery have all agreed that if any of us ever have children, Tommy is off the list of potential names. In fact, one of my colleagues who had a son last year and named him Thomas, has sworn to keep herself in the habit of calling him by his proper name. She had been calling him Tommy, but under the circumstances told the rest of us that the very name is poison to her now. On a personal note, my wife and I had been thinking of having children, but after this, we’ve decided to have ourselves both fixed. Tommy Grenville could make anyone hate kids.
When the Grenvilles were passing through the Impressionists area, I can say that they made an impression on the guards in the area. One of them mentioned that Tommy kept pointing at paintings and yelling, that’s stupid! Over and over again. Despite repeated requests for the boy to mind his manners and quiet down. The Grenvilles just told my guard well, that’s just the way he is. He doesn’t mean anything by it.
I just feel grateful that Tommy didn’t do what he did to any of the paintings in my area.
The guards kept a close eye on the brat until he finally left with his oblivious parents, until he moved on to the next section. There wasn’t much in the way of complaints about him after that... maybe he’d tired himself out, or maybe his parents bribed the little bastard into shutting up for a few minutes.
At least until he was there in that one gallery in our 20th century section.
Right in front of our prized Picasso.
We saw what happened after the fact on the security video recording. The guard in that particular area was speaking with another tourist, and had his back to Tommy. The Grenvilles were chattering away to themselves, staring at one of the other paintings. Tommy, for his part, was in the middle of the room, just turning round and round and round, totally quiet, it seems.
I suppose all children do that, right? Spin around for no reason at all. Just because they’re being kids. Usually though, they stop when they start to feel dizzy. Tommy, however, didn’t stop. He just kept going and going. And got himself... ungodly dizzy. And ungodly sick, as you can imagine. In fact, ungodly is a pretty good term for that punk kid. I’m no clergyman, but there’s no way Tommy Grenville has a soul.
Well, finally he stopped. He was a bit unsteady on his feet for a moment or so... and then all that spinning backfired on him. He got sick.
And I mean, sick. Projectile vomiting, ladies and gentlemen. All over the Picasso. I haven’t seen that much projectile vomiting since The Exorcist. I would suggest demonic possession might explain just how awful a child he is, but I expect a demonic force would probably steer clear of a brat like that.
And the vomit seemed endless. How much food could a child that age eat to have that much thrown up on the floor and the canvas? And yet there it all went, sprayed all over the Picasso. Cotton candy and fish and chips and ice cream and chocolate and cookies and something called... Mallomars. Whatever that is.
At this point, everyone was turning around, staring in shock at what was happening. The guard started running right for the kid, trying to save the painting. He slipped on some stray vomit, fell, broke his ankle. Fortunately it was a clean break, but still...
The kid, thinking the guard was out to get him, panicked. He charged forward, somehow not slipping on his own vomit, and slammed face first into the Picasso. His hands burst right through the canvas. The painting came crashing down off the wall, onto Tommy. Too bad it didn’t kill the brat, to be perfectly honest. Did I mention we’re all angry with him? Mrs. Grenville cried out my sweet angel baby! And as you can imagine when paintings are unlodged from our walls, alarms go off.
Well, there you have it. Our insurance will cover the damage and the costs of restoration, of course. We’d like to get the costs out of the Grenvilles, perhaps to the point of bleeding every last penny out of them, but our lawyers have told us it’s pointless. We have been told that the Grenvilles were summarily kicked out of Britain and told never to return, and our ambassador has filed a formal complaint in Washington. The President has apologized personally to our director, and the Grenvilles have had their passports revoked, thus preventing them from ever leaving America again. It’s their problem now, so to speak. Just as long as they keep the Grenvilles out of every museum and art gallery in the country. Oh, and then there’s Alistair, who’s now being seen to by the best doctors. They tell me they don’t expect a recovery anytime soon. All they can get out of him is the occasional muttered phrase projectile vomit.
As to the canvas itself? Our top restorers are at work on the Picasso even now. They assure us that all of the damage can be fixed. It’ll just take a whole lot of time. Strictly speaking, and yes, I’m aware I’m saying this as an art curator, but then I don’t really like modern art. Strictly speaking, I wonder how they’ll sort out the difference between Picasso’s paint strokes and the vomit.”