The Man Who Vandalised a £5 Million Rothko Painting Gets Jailed for Two Years

"Blue on Black", Mark Rothko (C)

Let’s make one thing crystal clear
We don’t want no ism here
– Dog Eat Dog “ISMS”

Years of jail time seems a heavy price for a publicity stunt. On the other hand it appears the act of vandalism in question carried a price tag of £200,000. You have to have an impressive ego to think you’re going to ‘improve’ on a Rothko and surely must be unaware of Dadaism if you think “Yellowism” sounds new and exciting? The Guardian reports:

A man who vandalised one of Tate Modern’s most cherished Mark Rothko paintings has been jailed for two years for actions the judge described as “entirely deliberate, planned and intentional”.

Wlodzimierz Umaniec, also known as Vladimir Umanets, a 26-year-old Polish national who lives in Worthing, West Sussex, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to criminal damage in excess of £5,000. In this case it was well in excess, with estimates suggesting it will cost more than £200,000 and 20 months to restore.

Judge Roger Chapple, at Inner London crown court, said it was “abundantly clear” that Umaniec was “plainly an intelligent man” who regarded Rothko as a “great painter”.

The incident happened at around 3.25pm on 7 October this year, when Umaniec approached one of Rothko’s Seagram murals, Black on Maroon, took out a brush and some black paint and wrote his name along with ‘A Potential Piece of Yellowism’ in the corner of the work.

He later claimed it was an artistic act, comparing himself to Marcel Duchamp, whose appropriation of a urinal in 1917 led to him being regarded as the father of conceptual art. Umaniec had told the BBC: “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.”

But Chapple, on the subject of “yellowism”, said it was “wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote it by damaging a work of art”.

If you’re interested their website is here: Yellowism.

And they tweet here:

At the moment their twitter account seems mainly to be getting abusive messages.

Nick Margerrison.

Nick Margerrison

I write on Disinfo for fun, I've been a fan of the company for years.

In the real world I'm a freelance TV/radio presenter. I've worked for LBC, Kerrang Radio, The Bay, Edge Media TV, Hallam FM and The BBC.

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7 Comments on "The Man Who Vandalised a £5 Million Rothko Painting Gets Jailed for Two Years"

  1. BuzzCoastin | Dec 16, 2012 at 12:23 am |

    Justice is not only blind
    she has absolutely no taste for art
    and not a lick of sense

    • David Howe | Dec 16, 2012 at 10:38 am |

      Duchamp of course had the good sense (and the respect) to deface copies, not to spoil an original for the rest of us.

      • Matt Staggs | Dec 16, 2012 at 12:39 pm |

        He also made a number of assemblages (‘Why Not Sneeze, Rose Selavy?’) and relatively conventional works (The painting ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ is a favorite, and it inspired a song by The Cramps!) The other stuff is more fun to talk about and easier to remember, though: a mustache on the Mona Lisa? That’s an act of rebellion that’s fun for the whole family!

      • BuzzCoastin | Dec 16, 2012 at 7:22 pm |

        this guy’s work was more profound than Duchamp’s
        Duchamp merely pointed out that ART was dead in humorous way
        but this guy got sent to jail for his work, defacing a canvas with some paint on it
        the other hand, Bushy & Co. Inc defaced the Constitution of the US
        and went scot-free

  2. namelesswon | Dec 16, 2012 at 1:36 pm |

    He got two years for being a shit artist. good ridance dickhead. Thats plenty of time to think about something original and meaningful.

  3. bobbiethejean | Dec 16, 2012 at 5:59 pm |

    Mark Rothko doesn’t do anything any third grader couldn’t do. Now granted, art is subjective and we put our own value on it but his work looks like it takes absolutely no effort or skill to make at all. Someone vandalized one of his paintings? Boohoo! It would take him 3 seconds to fix it. Now vandalizing a Bouguereau, Parrish, or Bierstadt, that’s another matter.

    • Your friend, Virginia Cassidy | Dec 17, 2012 at 12:40 pm |

      Rothko understood aesthetic theory on an intellectual level, but didn’t seem to have any serious personal convictions of his own.
      His art was all based on an academic understanding of how the nervous system processes colors across the spectrum, not any kind of personal or social imperative. He knew how to push buttons to get a reaction, but didn’t seem to know or care what the reaction meant or if it ever coalesced into a thematically coherent whole.

      He wrote a lot of arty farty analyses of his own work that made it clear he was an empty shell, which probably explains his spiral into alcoholism and suicide.

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