The unidentified man who claims to be responsible for defacing a major Mark Rothko painting in London on Sunday is telling reporters that he did it to advance his own art movement.
The man, who identified himself as Vladimir Umanets, reportedly spoke in a Russian accent in interviews with the BBC and ABC News, telling reporters that he did not “deface” the 1958 abstract expressionist work “Black on Maroon.” Rather he believes that he improved upon the painting by inscribing his own title and signature on the canvas with a black marker.
“I really believe that eventually, this canvas, with my signature will have a higher value than Rothko’s other paintings,” he told ABC. “Not immediately, but in several years.”
Umanets reportedly said he’d also considered defacing works by Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock and Marcel Duchamp.
The Guardian first reported on Sunday that a visitor walked into London’s Tate Modern Museum and applied a small area of black paint to the Rothko painting. The inscription reads: “Vladimir Umanets 12, a potential piece of Yellowism.”
Umanets apparently left the museum without being noticed. A photo of the defaced work soon showed up on Twitter, posted by a museum visitor named Tim Wright, who wrote that he witnessed the act of vandalism.
In interviews, Umanets identified himself as one of two founders of “Yellowism,” which is described on the Tumblr blog ThisisYellowism.com as “not art or anti-art.” Umanets and Marcin Lodyga are named as the founders. A one-paragraph manifesto details the would-be movement, accompanied by links to Twitter, Flickr and Facebook pages.
The Yellowism Facebook page was growing slowly but steadily on Monday morning, but it had only reached 237 “likes” by noon. Many users who posted on the page seemed to recognize the act of vandalism as a transparent publicity stunt.
“Two talent-less hacks who are so desperate for fame they deface others art to make a name for themselves,” posted one user.
“Complete morons, trying to convince themselves they are thinkers,” posted another.
Several other posters were even less kind, with some calling for the vandal to be jailed. One user posted a photo of what appeared to be dog feces over the caption, “This is Yellowism.”
Umanets has said the act was not a play for self-promotion but rather for the greater good of his movement. “I did not do this to become rich or famous,” he told ABC News. “I did it because of Yellowism.”
Scotland Yard immediately launched an investigation into the vandalism. Umanets did not provide his name, age or location when he spoke to reporters via cellphone, but he said he expects to be arrested soon once police catch up with him.
The Tate has not appraised the value of the defaced artwork, but Rothko’s paintings are among the most valuable in the world. In May, the Russian painter’s 1961 work “Orange, Red, Yellow” fetched $86.8 million, making it the most expensive post-war painting ever sold at an auction.
“Black on Maroon” was one of the paintings that inspired John Logan’s 2010 Tony-winning play “Red,” which follows the anti-establishment Rothko as he grapples with creating a series of murals for the fancy Four Seasons restaurant in New York City.
Rothko committed suicide in 1970 at the age of 66.