The art world was shook yesterday when a vandal by the name of Vladimir Umanets wrote, "Vladimir Umanets '12 / A Potential Piece of Yellowism" on Mark Rothko's 1959 “Black on Maroon” painting at the Tate Modern in London, causing the institution to be evacuated. The painting is part of a series titled the Seagram murals and was gifted to the Tate by Rothko in 1969. While the value of this specific work is uncertain, it's known that the last Rothko work sold for $86.7 million at Christie’s earlier this year and set a new record for contemporary art.
Word reached the Internet through a witness, Tim Wright, who tweeted the following:
The man who defaced the work was said to be white and in his 20s. It wasn't long until The Guardian released a message from the man claiming to be the vandal, Vladimir Umanets. He said:
"I believe that if someone restores the [Rothko] piece and removes my signature the value of the piece would be lower but after a few years the value will go higher because of what I did," he said, comparing himself to Marcel Duchamp, the French artist who shocked the art establishment when he signed a urinal and put it on display in 1917.
"I was expecting that the security at Tate Modern would take me straight away, because I was there and I signed the picture in front of a lot of people. There is video and cameras and everything, so I was shocked."
"I didn't destroy the picture. I did not steal anything. There was a lot of stuff like this before. Marcel Duchamp signed things that were not made by him, or even Damien Hirst."
He said that he admired Rothko, describing him as one of the great figures in art of the last century, but added: "I don't believe that what I have done is criminal. If the police are going to arrest me, then they are going to arrest me. I am OK with that."
Umanets is a co-founder of Yellowism, which appears to be a movement that's neither "art" or "anti-art." According to the website, it roughly translates to an idea of work without context or any creative element.
Hyperallergic has found numerous people on Twitter who "aren't upset that a Rothko was defaced today." Among them, people have suggested that Umanets should have vandalized a Jeff Koons piece, that it was Banksy, and that the Tate should just leave it as it is.
So far, Umanets has not been arrested, despite admitting himself guilty of the act. We imagine he will be found and detained soon. The damage is done, and only time will tell if his vandalism will actually increase the value of the work.