Man Sentenced for Vandalizing Rothko Painting


The verdict is in. Wlodzimierz Umaniec, also known as Vladi­mir Umanets, has been sentenced to two years in jail for vandalizing a Mark Rothko painting on view at Tate Modern, London. This morning at the Inner London Crown Court, Judge Roger Chapple cited Umaniec’s actions as “entirely deliberate, planned and intentional.”

Umaniec, a 26-year-old Polish national living in West Sussex, pleaded guilty at a previous hearing to criminal damages in excess of $8,064.50 (£5,000) for painting his name and the phrase, “A Potential Piece of Yellowism” (an art movement co-founded by Umaniec ) in the corner of Rothko’s  Seagram mural, Black on Maroon (1958).

The incident occurred Oct. 7 of this year, around 3:25 p.m. The defendant claimed it was an artistic act similar to Marcel Duchamp’s appropriation of a urinal for the now-famous Fountain (1917), telling the BBC that “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.” Chapple rejected this argument, remarking that it was “wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote [Yellowism] by damaging a work of art.”

Chapple also lamented how this incident has led galleries to review security arrangements and ultimately “to distance the public from the works of art they come to enjoy.” Black on Maroon is one of Rothko’s 30 Seagram murals, originally created for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. The artist gave eight of the Seagram canvases to Tate in 1969, and they are now on view in one of nine Rothko rooms displaying Rothko’s work at Tate Modern.

Valued by Sotheby’s before the vandalism at anywhere from $8 million to $14.5 million, Black on Maroon is expected to remain off display for at least 18 months while conservators repair the damage. Estimates place the cost of the restoration at more than $320,000, and the long, difficult procedure will likely be complicated by Rothko’s incorporation of unusual materials such as eggs and glue into his works.