A man briefly disrupted the Jeff Koons retrospective at the Whitney Museum this afternoon, splashing red paint against a wall and signing his name. He did not vandalize any artworks.
According to artist Laura Higgins Palmer, who alerted Hyperallergic to the intervention, the man threw red paint against the wall in a gallery on the third floor. Palmer said she was taking a selfie of her reflection in one of Koons’s silver bunnies when she noticed a man walking by with a black bag. When she turned around, a man was splashing paint on the wall, in what appears to be a kind of double X shape, although it could also be a human figure with arms and legs spread. The man managed to sign his name in marker underneath before being led away by security. Palmer says everyone was then evacuated from the third floor so that the wall could be repainted.
“I am a painter, same age as Koons, but my work is about painterly aesthetics, not in-your-face conceptualism,” she wrote to us over text message. “I am completely at peace with Koons, really enjoyed the show, and also can fully sympathize with the guy’s frustrations.”
Koons does have a knack for riling people up, and it seems likely that this was some kind of publicity stunt by an artist who feels overlooked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fully successful because we can’t actually identify him from his signature. Can you?
Hyperallergic reached out to the Whitney Museum, which offered the following statement:
An isolated act of vandalism occurred this afternoon at the Whitney Museum of American Art involving a blank gallery wall on the third floor of the Jeff Koons exhibition. No artwork was affected or damaged in any way. Guards quickly apprehended the individual responsible. The police were called and they removed the individual from the museum. Following standard security protocol, the third floor of the museum was closed briefly and reopened within two hours of the incident.
Update, 8/20, 7:03pm ET: One of our readers has deciphered the name: Monty Cantsin, which, according to Wikipedia, is “a multiple-use name that anyone can adopt,” allegedly invented in 1978 by an artist named David Zack. “In a philosophy anticipating that of free software and open source, anyone should perform in his name and thus contribute to and participate in his fame and achievements,” Wikipedia says. The name is associated with Neoism, which Wikipedia identifies as a kind of subculture of parody and hoaxes; the New York Times calls it “an international anarchist art movement.”
Notably, one of the founders of Neoism, and a user of the name Monty Cantsin, is Hungarian-born Canadian performance artist Istvan Kantor — and the man in the Koons photo looks a lot like Kantor. According to articles in the Toronto Star and the New York Times, Kantor likes to make X’s with his own blood; he’s been banned for doing so on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a host of other institutions. So, it looks like the vandalism at the Whitney is meant to be an X — except it was done in blood, not paint.
Update 2, 8/20, 7:08pm ET: We couldn’t resist sharing this tweet by a reader:
Update 3, 8/20, 7:20pm ET: A Twitter commenter, @annakblair, pointed us to another incident in 2004 when Kantor, according to the BBC, “tried to squeeze a capsule of blood onto Jeff Koons’ Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof gallery.”
In 2005, Kantor told the Japan Times that the museum distorted the reality of his action:
Kantor says the museum fed the media the story that he had intended to deface art, specifically the nearby Jeff Koons sculpture “Michael Jackson and Bubbles.” Although he vehemently denies this accusation, he does not deny the criminal nature of his actions. “I have always been breaking the rules of art,” Kantor said Sunday. “I call myself a “subvertainer” and I consider my criminal activities the most creative part of my work. My art was always anti-establishment and anti-institutional. My attitude always questions what is the relationship between artists and the institutional art world and the need for institutions. The whole ‘Blood Campaign’ is basically an ongoing anti-institutional project.”
Update 4, 8/20, 10:43pm ET: Kantor, via a Facebook account under the name Monty Cantsin Amen, wrote the following to a friend of Hyperallergic:
I just came out of mental hospital where the police took me after the Whitney I was discharged I am free I’ll put out my Supreme gift manifesto that I handed to the museum after the intervention tomorrow now I go out for a drink in the lower east side thanks for your support Monty
Correction: This article originally stated that the man photographed in Palmer’s selfie was also the vandal. That appears to be incorrect. It has been updated.
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