Vandalized Rothko Could Take 18 Months to Restore

Our enhanced version of Tim Wright’s photo of the “defaced Rothko” at Tate Modern (click to enlarge) (via @WrightTG)

The damage caused by the Polish Yellowist Vladimir Umanets to Mark Rothko’s painting “Black on Maroon” (1958) at the Tate in October could take up to 18 months to repair. The vandalism is, unfortunately, far worse than initially thought.

The major problem for conservators is that Umanets didn’t actually attack the canvas with a paint marker, as it seemed from photographs. His inscription (his name, plus the phrase “A potential piece of  yellowism”) was actually made with a graffiti-style ink pen, and the ink has bled “all the way through the canvas,” the BBC reports. Conservators will have to dig through Rothko’s famously complex layers of materials, which include glue, synthetic resin, and egg, to remove the ink, then rebuild it after cleaning.

“Graffiti pens are made to work outdoors and survive rain and all kinds of things, so it’s something that’s quite noxious,” said Julia Nagle, a London painting conservator.

Of his unhinged art movement, Umanets has said, “In Yellowism you don’t have freedom of interpretation, everything is about Yellowism, that’s it.” It’s not exactly clear how the ideology and the action connect, but the artist has definitely stopped viewers from appreciating the Rothko mural in its pure state.

Umanets has pleaded guilty to charges of criminal damage and was released on conditional bail. We’re not sure 15 seconds of fame is worth 18 months of conservation work on a masterpiece of modern art — but obviously Umanets would disagree.

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