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Drunk Woman Attacks $30 Million Painting By Punching It and Urinating on It

"You have to wonder where her friends were."

Carmen Tisch

Investigators are trying to determine why a woman caused $10,000 worth of damage to a large expressionist painting at the Clyfford Still Museum in Denver by punching, scratching, removing her pants, and sliding up and down the artwork while urinating.

Carmen Tisch, from Denver, was apparently intoxicated when she declared war on the painting and now faces charges of criminal mischief, said district attorney spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough.

Tisch has been held on $20,000 bond since Dec. 29 incident, said the spokeswoman for the Denver District Attorney's Office.

"You have to wonder where her friends were," said Ms Kimbrough.

The police report said Tisch beat the painting repeatedly with her fist and that the scratches and other damage were visible. However, what's arguably worse for the long-term value of the painting is the fact that she -- um -- attacked it with her glutei maximi.

"It doesn't appear she urinated on the painting or that the urine damaged it, so she's not being charged with that," Denver District Attorney's Office spokeswoman Lynn Kimbrough said Wednesday.

"It does damage the piece, though, even people just knowing that happened," said Ivar Zeile, owner of Denver's Plus Gallery, in a recent FOX report.

The painting, referred to as 1957-J-No. 2, is valued at more than $30 million. The large montage of black, white and burnt orange swaths with a sliver of yellow is from Still's middle period.

Denver acquired the collection in stiff competition by promising to build a facility for the paintings and sculptures. Still, who died in 1980, specified in his will that his estate had to go to an American city willing to establish a permanent museum for his work. He was one of the first abstract expressionist artists following World War II.

The museum has raised $32 million in private donations for its building, endowment and operations, Petersen said. The city of Denver also contributed about $99 million from an auction of four Still works.

Museum officials said they believe security is adequate for the facility and that they regularly evaluate security to protect the collection and visitors. Museum spokeswoman Regan Petersen said in a statement that its guards "acted swiftly and appropriately; the police were summoned immediately and the offender was taken into custody."

Visitors touring the gallery Thursday said they were horrified by the attack. Rachel Gelbman and Christine Shaw, of Denver, said they had seen the painting at the Denver Art Museum and noticed it was missing, replaced by a similar painting from the 1956-1958 era.

"What would possess someone to do that?" Gelbman said as security guards roamed the building.

Tisch will be formally advised of the charges today, Kimbrough said.

"It comes across as pretty inconceivable that somebody would do that in the context of a museum," said Ivar Zeile, owner of Plus Gallery.

At the museum, on the wall near where Still's painting once stood, Still summed up his philosophy of art: "I never wanted color to be color, texture to be texture, images to become images. I wanted them all to fuse into a living spirit."

Based on multiple eyewitness accounts from that December evening, Still's art wasn't the only thing fused with spirits.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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