Artists want their work to stir emotion, to inspire or to captivate. But, what do we do when our art inspires negative reactions? How should art managers handle turmoil?

This question was recently brought to mind after reading an unbelievable story that unfolded at the Clyfford Still Museum. This incident happened in my Colorado homeland; the same state that brought you a woman who drove all the way from Montana to Northern Colorado to take a crowbar to a controversial lithograph.

The Denver Post describes the bizarre turn of events that happened in late December: “A 36-year-old Denver woman, apparently drunk, leaned against an iconic Clyfford Still painting worth more than $30 million last week, punched it, slid down it and urinated on herself, according to a criminal case against Carmen Lucette Tisch.”

Now, this is not the stand-back-in-awe response most gallery owners hope their attendees have. In response to this off-the-map behavior, the museum issued a professional statement about the event. Now the lingering question I had was, was this reticence the best response? The museum, which just opened in 2011, received national coverage because of the horrific incident. Was there a way they could have spun the story in their own favor to encourage more people to experience Still’s masterpieces first-hand –  with hopefully more favorable responses?

How would you have handled it?

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