A 43-year-old man with a history of mental illness and run-ins with the law has been accused of purposely breaking a $120,000 glass sculpture at the Tacoma Art Museum.
Pierce County prosecutors this week charged the Tacoma resident with one count of first-degree malicious mischief. He pleaded not guilty Monday in Superior Court and was ordered jailed in lieu of $20,000 bail.
The man is accused of entering an exhibit Friday and breaking off a piece of a Dale Chihuly work titled “Gilded Lavender Ikebana with Lapis Stem and Two Leaves,” charging papers show.
“On the video surveillance, the defendant’s arm swung forward and a large amount of breaking colored glass appears on the floor,” deputy prosecutor April McComb wrote in a declaration for probable cause.
The artwork was damaged badly enough that it was removed from the gallery and is no longer on display, museum officials said.
The man allegedly was headed toward a closed exhibit when museum employees confronted him, McComb wrote.
“The defendant then started toward the exit and pulled a fire alarm on his way to the exit,” according to the probable-cause declaration.
Prosecutors also have charged him with sounding a false fire alarm.
Museum officials reported Tuesday that the incident occurred in the Bill and Bobby Street Gallery. Staff members quickly cleaned up the mess, reassured visitors and notified police, they said. The museum remained open.
“It is always distressing to see a work of art damaged,” Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich said Tuesday. “We seek to strike a balance between allowing visitors close encounters with works of art and ensuring the safety of both our visitors and the works of art.”
Museum officials declined to provide a photograph of the sculpture to The News Tribune.
The man accused of damaging the piece has a history of felony charges dating to 2006 and has been convicted of malicious mischief, second-degree robbery and custodial assault.
He’s been evaluated at Western State Hospital several times, and doctors there have diagnosed him with schizophrenia, antisocial disorder and bipolar disorder, court records show.
Pierce County judges have in the past authorized mental-health professionals to involuntarily medicate the man to ensure he was competent to stand trial, the records show.