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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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Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly, Kill Screen, Creators Project,...

8 replies on “Vandalized Rothko Could Take 18 Months to Restore”

  1. He should spend 18 months in prison. That would be justice. I’m so tired of Clockwork Orange droogs tagging art they could only dream of creating.

  2. It’s so much worse than I originally thought, too. They publish their manifesto on tumblr, and seem to admire Damien Hirst. The vandalism (which is really one of the more obvious actions for a conceptual terrorist, I mean it happens in comic books, right? This is the caricature of the asshole artist in the lay person’s imagination, writ large) almost made sense in the context of the text ‘the last exhibition of yellowism’ (http://www.thisisyellowism.com/post/34019858036/the-last-exhibition-of-yellowism-every), but not really.

    I think the most useful counter-critique of yellowism is a comment on their tumblog:

    vculture asked: Why should anyone care about yellowism? Ideally, this answer will avoid tautology.

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