We enhanced Tim Wright’s photo of the “defaced Rothko” at London’s Tate Modern. (via @WrightTG)

We have not been able to independently verify this information, but it appears that a Rothko painting at the Tate Modern in London has been defaced by a vandal. Tim Wright tweeted a photo of the painting today and he tweeted an eyewitness report:

The painting that was defaced appears to be Rothko’s “Black on Maroon” (1958), and if that is true than the writing that appears above is quite large as the painting is 90 x 81 1/2″ (2286 x 2070mm) [EDITOR’S NOTE: Please see UPDATE 13]:

The Tate Modern has been evacuated according to a number of sources, including this tweeter:

And this from the BBC:

We will post more information as it becomes available.

UPDATE: Greg Allen, of greg.org, has potentially found the culprit:

And what’s with that site? It reads like shlocky high school art theory, and, of course, “Yellowism” has a manifesto:

Using this newfound knowledge, we can probably deduce that the vandalism reads:

UPDATE 2: BBC confirms that the painting has been vandalized:

UPDATE 3: A Tate spokesperson said the following to BBC:

“Tate can confirm that there was an incident in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting.”

UPDATE 4: As this story develops, Sarah Hromack has a great point about the role of technology in the reporting of this incident:

UPDATE 5: The Yellowists, is that what they’re called, have a Twitter account (@thisisyellowism) but it hasn’t been active since August 29.

UPDATE 6: The Independent has the story:

In a short statement a spokeswoman for the Tate said: “Tate can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting.

And the suspect, according to police, is a white male in the mid 20s, which appears to synch up with the description of Vladmir Umanets, who is pictured in an photo here.

UPDATE 7: Curious how this story spread? Greg Allen has his take:

And a blogger in New Zealand provides her perspective on how the news spread.

UPDATE 8: Tim Wright, the man who posted the original tweet about the incident, gave the following quote to The Guardian:

“Then we heard the sound of a pen, but by the time we turned around he was pretty much finished with his tag,” said Wright, who was with his girlfriend on a weekend visit to London from Bristol. “The pen ink then just dripped down the painting. Once we realised what had happened, we went to find a member of staff. They were really shocked when they came and saw what he had done.”

UPDATE 9: A Londoner made the following keen observation:

But as another commenter mentioned, it was probably a graffiti paint marker, which can leave marks somewhat like a brush.

UPDATE 10: Ben Quinn of The Guardian seems to be onto something … and we’re all waiting with bated breath:

UPDATE 11: The very clever Holly Knowlman has figured out that:

Knowlman mentions that she discovered the tidbit on the This is Yellowism Facebook page, which currently has only 148 likes. It was posted by Jane Hobson of London.

UPDATE 12: Ben Quinn has published quotes from the man who is claiming to be responsible for the vandalism of the Tate Rothko. He writes:

“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 …

“I was expecting that the security at Tate Modern would take me straight away, because I was there and I signed the picture in front of a lot of people. There is video and cameras and everything, so I was shocked.”

“I didn’t destroy the picture. I did not steal anything. There was a lot of stuff like this before. Marcel Duchamp signed things that were not made by him, or even Damien Hirst.”

He said that he admired Rothko, describing him as one of the great figures in art of the last century, but added: “I don’t believe that what I have done is criminal. If the police are going to arrest me, then they are going to arrest me. I am OK with that.”

UPDATE 13: BBC has a video report. And they state that the painting that was damaged was “Black on Maroon” (1959), and not “Black on Maroon” (1958). Though I think they may be wrong. The red band on the right appears much thicker in the 1959 “Black on Maroon” than the photo would suggest. I’ve juxtaposed a screenshot of the BBC video and Tim Wright’s original twitterpic.

UPDATE 14: The Rothko family has released a statement about yesterday’s incident. It is posted on The Telegraph and GalleristNY and reads:

“The Rothko family is greatly troubled by yesterday’s occurrence but has full confidence that the Tate Gallery will do all in its power to remedy the situation. Our father donated his legendary Seagram paintings to the museum in 1969 sensing the commitment of the institution to his work and impressed by the warm embrace it had received from the British public. We are heartened to have felt that embrace again in the outpouring of distress and support that we and our father have received both directly and in public forums.” —Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko

BusinessWeek also quotes the Tate as saying the London police were pursuing the suspect.


Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

30 replies on “CONFIRMED: Rothko Defaced at Tate Modern (UPDATE 14: Rothko Family Speaks)”

  1. If their tumblr is anything to go by (http://www.thisisyellowism.com/, ofc) they are super obsessed with the Face and super super obsessed with An Oak Tree, which is maybe unsurprising since they apparently have something to do with Damien Hirst? judging by noonelivesforever.info

  2. As I suspected.. just another wannabe Tony Shafrazi. Give him the jail sentence and fine Shafrazi never got. This sort of shit should not be a ticket to wealth and fame.

  3. You guys know you can embed tweets, right? You don’t have to take screenshots of each one and upload the images.

    1. We normally do, but after we compiled the whole thing and it worked for an hour the tweets stopped appearing as embedded tweets and only showed up on people’s screens as unclickable URLs. We couldn’t fix it (and checked all the forums for answers). I had to go back and take screenshots. WP isn’t perfect.

  4. Talentless coward who would never be able to stand the life of being a real artist. This is only his 15 minute ticket to infamy. Shafrazi sells art on the secondary market and that’s it. No great legacy there except one of mediocrity.

    1. Krink was my 1st thought. Eyewitnesses said a marker pen with a specific writing sound, and it dripped. News reported black paint and brush, probably responding to the drips rather than eyewitness report. Since the “yellowists” used marker in other works, the drips may be from being nervous at their 1st time tagging anything outside of the safety of their gallery environment. That or the dude didn’t care, or has limited marker skills.

  5. Amazing that this idiot has the gall to compare himself to Duchamp. Whatever you may think about Duchamp as an artist, this kind of thing was not what he was about at all. It’s like saying that mashed potatoes are the same thing as french fries, just because they share a common ingredient. And even though he’s arguably most famous for his Readymades, Duchamp did a lot more than just “sign things that were not made by him.” Unless I’m missing something, I see no indication that Mr. Vandal here can say the same.

    Duchamp was also a gifted writer and art theorist. Try comparing just about anything he ever said or wrote on art to the nonsense on this guy’s Tumblr. It’s not a flattering contrast.

    Long story short, I think this person missed the requisite Dadaism lecture in his freshman art history class. But given that he also thinks defacing another artist’s work is an ethical way to draw attention to himself, it’s not exactly surprising.

  6. If Vladimir Umanets is an anagram of I’m True Vandalism, then what is Marcin Lodyga (his coauthor’s name) an anagram of? Some suggestions:
    I’m a Glad Crony
    I’m a Angry Clod
    Cloying Drama
    Glad Acrimony
    A Normalcy Dig
    Dynamic Largo
    Garlic Monday

  7. Unfortunately this speaks as much to how art is valued today as it does to the person who tagged the piece. It may be true that the sensation of Vladimir’s prank will drive up the price of the painting, but he’s equating monetary value with the quality of the artwork.

    The market is driving our appreciation of artwork. So sad.

    1. I don’t think it will drive the cost. I mean, I don’t think Tony Shafrazi’s graffiti on Picasso’s Guernica did anything to the painting other than create a curious footnote, no?

      1. Agreed. Even those familiar with art history, will not recall Shafrazi, but know not only Picasso, but specifically the Guernica masterpiece.

    2. How is that any different than how art has been viewed in the past? I’m not sure I understand what you’re sad about… if a piece of art is more valuable, it is going to have a higher (price) value.

  8. For the record, Rothko paintings have been exponentially increasing in value at auction, recently breaking contemporary art records at Christies. No help needed there, Mr. Yellow.

  9. “…the first thing you might learn, in considering jokes, is that Marcel Duchamp’s urinal was one — quite a good one first time round, corny by the time of Andy Warhol´s Brillo boxes, and downright stupid today.” Roger Scruton in Beauty

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