When the Broad Contemporary Art Museum opened at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in February 2008, visitors were greeted in a new open-air lobby by artist Jeff Koons’ colorful and shiny “Tulips.”

But what happened next was no bouquet of roses. The art had to be removed after it was scraped and scratched, allegedly by passers-by including children who may have stomped on its stems and bulbs. The Broad Art Foundation, which owns the sculpture, recouped the $170,000 repair costs from its insurer. And now the insurer has sued the security firm that supplied the guards at the museum.

Pasadena private security firm Inter-Con Security Systems Inc. was hit by a lawsuit recently by Axa Art Insurance Corp., which insured “Tulips” for $23 million. The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, accuses Inter-Con’s security guards of failing to keep visitors from touching and damaging the sculpture.

Neil Martau, executive vice president for Inter-Con, said the security firm is not liable for the damaged art and will defend itself vigorously.

“The artwork was displayed according to the curator’s wishes,” said Martau, whose company provided security services to LACMA from 1992 through November 2008, nine months after the “Tulips” problem.

Axa’s attorney declined to comment on the pending litigation. But Axa’s lawsuit claims that LACMA instructed two Inter-Con security guards to monitor and protect the sculpture 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but it alleges that guards didn’t fulfill that responsibility.

For example, AXA claims that guards asked children to leave the sculpture alone, but only after the children had climbed onto the stems and tulip bulbs while the guards were “engaged in idle

conversation.”

After the art was removed from the Broad Contemporary in April of last year, it was shipped to Germany and repaired: The artwork’s 10 layers of paint of were removed, its stainless steel surface was redone, its 10 layers of paint were repainted and, finally, its surface was repolished to bring back a “mirror patina.”

Back to its former glory, the piece was most recently on display in Germany’s New National Gallery as part of a Koons exhibit there.

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