Vandalised Rothko Will Require 18 Months Of Intensive Conservation

Last month visitors at Tate Modern were shocked when a man defaced Rothko’s “Black on Maroon” (1958) with a marker in the name of a movement called Yellowism.  Now conservators at Tate Modern have revealed that the damage is significant and it could take a year and a half to restore the painting.

Vladimir Umanets, born Wlodimierz Umaniec, has claimed responsibility for the action but denies the criminal damage.  Citing Marcel Duchamp’s “Fountain” as source material, Umanets believes he created a new work by adding his signature.  The further inscription of “a potential piece of yellowism” indicates the neither “art or anti-art” phenomena created by Umanets and Marcin Lodyga in 2010.  The movement aims to recontextualize existing works of art by stripping them of their original context and meaning and cultural significance to make them about the colour yellow.  The Yellowism manifesto states: “The main difference between Yellowism and art is that in art you have got freedom of interpretation, in Yellowism you don’t have freedom of interpretation, everything is about Yellowism, that’s it.”

The pen used to deface the painting is a type of marker used by graffiti artists to tag buildings and is therefore incredibly durable, able to withstand varying weather conditions.  The graffiti on the painting is not simply sitting on top of the top layer of paint, but instead it is believed to have permeated the layers of and bled into the canvas itself.  One of the first steps of restoration is having an understanding of the components used to create the work – the canvas, the pigment, the varnish, etc.  For “Black on Maroon” this is more complicated than usual as Rothko was known for incorporating atypical materials to his oil paints in order to give the finished work the illusion of three-dimensionality.  Luckily, a number of scholars have devoted substantial time to studying Rothko’s methods and inclusion of egg, resin, and glue with more traditional oils.  An in depth analysis of the chemical makeup of both the original work and the marker used to deface the painting will be necessary in order to best remove the vandalism.

Marc Rothko is one of the world’s most celebrated artists, and this act of vandalism is viewed as a tragedy.  Rothko’s works consistently fetch high prices at auction, and “Black on Maroon” has an estimated value of tens of millions of pounds.  Though the restoration process is expected to take quite a long time, Tate does have a strong team of conservators working to repair the damage.  Meanwhile Umanets has plead guilty to criminal damage and was released on conditional bail.  His sentencing will occur at a later date.

Words: Emily Sack © ArtLyst 2012

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