Defacing Art In The Name Of Art

Jumping the Shark: The moment when a tv show or other cultural phenomenon or politician or anything else you want, really, begins an irrecoverable decline in quality, becoming parodic and relying on gimmicks and stunts to maintain viewer or consumer interest.

London’s Tate Modern is home to a number of Mark Rothko’s Seagram murals, originally painted for New York’s Four Seasons restaurant in 1958.  One of these works, Black on Maroon, was defaced over the weekend by a man alleged to be Vladimir Umanets, an artist who’s one half of a movement called ‘yellowism’, yellow being the colour of rank cowardice.

Apparently, writing a sentence on a work of art by one of the 20th century’s better-known artists was not at all an act of shameless self-promotion by one of the 21st century’s not-at-all known artists.  It would be narcissistic in the extreme to do such a thing, even if it does get your name in the papers and more people to your exhibitions.  In fact it’s cruel even to suggest such a cynical motive.

No, this little act was a selfless show of giving – it was intended to raise awareness of what’s going on more generally in the world of contemporary art – itself no stranger to shameless self-promotion.

And thus the jumped shark eats itself.

Quoteth the Guardian: “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.” 

That’s right; el Guardian says young Vlad considers himself to be basically exactly the same as Marcel Duchamps.  Duchamps was associated with the ‘readymades’ series, which included said (signed) urinal, a copy of which is on display in the Tate.  And your local drinking establishment.  

Young Vlad’s act of vandalism was in itself a work of art, duh.

Duchamps was making a clever point about art theory – is it art because it’s in a museum or gallery and it has a signature on it – and whether something could be a work of art if it wasn’t specifically created as a work of art.  Or that’s what I understood the bugger to be doing.  Maybe he was just taking the piss.  But, and here ladies and gentlemen lies the world of difference, Duchamps created his own work rather than scribbling on someone else’s.  Or put another way, it’s hard to see our young Vlad as anything other than a twat with a pen.  

But you should try to, because he was, of course, definitely making a point about contemporary art, albeit possibly unwittingly.  This makes young Vlad heroic rather than pretentious.

Me, I’m a fan of Rothko, same as I am Mondrian and others routinely held up as examples of the ‘my kid could do that’ school of art. 

Your kid probably couldn’t do that, although they could doubtless make something that looks a bit like that.  Just ‘cause it’s abstract doesn’t mean it’s worse than a watercolour of a bowl of fruit.  But nor does it make it better.  Or more meaningful.   

I love Rothko’s paintings, which are deceptive – the mark of a great artist, whatever the medium.  But he played his part in making it ok to toss off any old wank and call it art so long as you have some spurious point to make about, like, stuff and the world and that.  And a good PR on speed-dial.  

NB: it should take at minimum twice as long to explain the theory behind the piece than it took to create the piece.  Ignore also: Damien Hirst.

Incidentally, if you can’t see the multiple levels of self-awareness and irony in young Vlad’s heroic act, well clearly you’re not a hipster – I bet you’ve never even heard of Dalston.  You probably wear glasses with actual lenses in them.  

Then again I’ve taken a look at some of young Vlad’s ‘work’.  Perhaps I’m wrong and he’s just rather stupid and vain and self-important. 

We all recognise in others the faults we despise in ourselves.

And on that note, I better get my felt-tip pens out – I feel a trip to the Saatchi Gallery coming on.


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