Should We Ignore Art Vandals?

Many people have been raising questions about how the media should treat attention whores like the Yellowists, who are obviously committing crimes to fan the fires of fame. This is a question that confronts any journalist when covering something that is both criminal and possibly a ploy to attract attention for specific purposes, like art sales. It’s a difficult quagmire to navigate.

Houston-based artist Brian Piana had this suggestion via Twitter:

But this criminal ploy is nothing new to the culture industry and artists of all stripes (or their press agents) often have the skills to play the media like a fiddle. Rap artists in the 1980s and ’90s were often in crime-related headlines that helped propel their music careers, while street artists have grabbed headlines for over a decade for stunts that often get them arrested (for instance, Poster Boy) and drive their fame. Every d-list Hollywood celebrity knowns that a well-timed and coordinated sex tape, tweet, affair, or appearance can do wonders for the publicity of their new projects. Even in the art field, Tony Shafrazi used his vandalism of Picasso’s “Guernica” at MoMA to help propel him into the art world.

Should we not publish the names of these criminals? My opinion is we should publish the names but as a community we should take a stand that this isn’t going to be their vehicle to stardom. Take the case of the Houston Picasso vandal, who in June stenciled a bullfighter killing a bull with the word “conquista” underneath. It was an orchestrated ploy that he justified by some mumbo jumbo that includes this lame claim, “I dedicate this to all the people out there who have suffered for any injustice of every kind.” This month, this same Picasso vandal is opening a show in Houston by an opportunistic gallerist, who is standing by his right to show the punk.

The show is titled “Houston We Have A Problem,” but what is interesting is the backlash to the exhibition that has been generated online. The Great God Pan Is Dead art blog has been tracking the story and has posted many interesting comments about the incident, including the fact that the show has caused a riff between the two gallery partners, with one withdrawing from the gallery altogether as a result of the show.

The Houston art community is rightly appalled by this show devoted to what appears to be a lousy artist (though one wonders if the disgust would be the same if he wasn’t so bad). This statement was the most touching (the Houston Picasso vandal’s name is Uriel):

This appears to be a better solution to dealing with the culprits, rather than refusing to publish the names. The actions of these people are often from a distorted sense of self of worth and/or entitlement. The curious thing about the Tate Rothko incident is that the person responsible for defacing the Rothko gave this as one of the explanations for his actions:

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.

Other than being deluded, the Tate Rothko defacer also doesn’t understand how these things work. The value (cultural or otherwise) didn’t go up when Shafrazi graffitied “KILL LIES ALL” on “Guernica” and in fact it has only made it in the history books as a curious footnote that has little if any meaning. The Tate Rothko incident will be the same. The best that the Tate Rothko offender can hope for is that he will be able to parlay his 15 minutes of fame into something else — Shafrazi turned his into a career selling graffiti and contemporary art, though he is still reputedly being blacklisted by MoMA and others.

In other words, the news of the Tate Rothko incident is already waning and the clock is ticking. Namaste, dude.

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