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Tuesday 9 October 2012

Tuesday is Art News Day: Rothko Work Vandalised!

Please note: There's swearing aplenty below...

This won't come as news to anyone, but as you all know a Rothko painting, Black on Maroon (1958), was vandalised by Vladimir Umanets at the Tate Modern last Sunday afternoon (7/10/12). Umanets argument is that it is not vandalism but an expression of his 'Yellowism', which is not an art movement as such, but seeks to inspire (in part) the question, “what is art?”

Firstly, am I worried or concerned that a great piece of art has been potentially destroyed? No.
I'd be no more concerned if the Angel of the North was scrapped or if the Mona Lisa were defaced (again). I suppose I'm just not that precious about art works. I doubt Rothko would have been that bothered either. What bothers me is; the nonsense Umanets talks, his ability to speak this without contradiction, the lazy yet violent response by many people against the vandalism, and generally the ignorant attitude many have to contemporary art. So, that's quite a big and angry list.

Here comes the rational argument bit...

1. Umanets is or is not a vandal.
2. Art works are precious and must be preserved.
3. Rothko is or is not a great artist.

1. Umanets is, from a legal definition, a vandal. However, beyond that definition the question posed becomes one of value, or rather, the value of the action. For example; was the man (Paul Kelleher, who was subsequently jailed for three months) who decapitated the Thatcher statue in 2002 a vandal? Thus, the answer to (1.) depends on our answer to (3.) it seems. If you think Rothko a fraud or conceptual bullshit or whatever then you might not consider Umanets a vandal (other than legally) but rather a saviour for common sense etc.

However, and not just to shit in your porridge, I'd like to say that Umanets is not a vandal, and that Rothko is a great artist, but that art works do not deserve special treatment. Why?

2. Now I'm not advocating slinging all art into the bin or storing it in a shed, but that our sanctification of art is ridiculous. It stems from the bullshit medieval religious power structures that art once served, but that now it should be breaking away from and, further, helping in the breaking down of. Art gallery's are like cathedrals, where one silently and reverently gazes in mute and (most importantly) passive admiration at the beauty of the work and the skill of the artist.
Fuck that shit.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to hail Umanets as a hero, I think he's a cretin with a nonsense self-aggrandizing agenda. One that the media seem all to willing to encourage, mainly because they've lost the ability to intellectually engage with and criticise events.

Anyway, in one sense artworks are cultural artefacts or icons and for the sake of history they should be recorded. This does not mean the individual object must last forever as an undamaged relic for us to place in a reliquary and worship but most importantly for the rich parasites to buy and sell. It is for these parasite fucks financially worthwhile to keep the 'art is something distant', 'art is something special', 'art is something holy' worldview alive. To keep art as a tool for the (rich and) powerful, thus increasing it's value.

Before returning to Umanets and the nonsense of Yellowism, I'll briefly cover 3. Now, I'd like to write a longer piece about Rothko, but let's do that separately and once I've spent some time properly viewing his works and not just as a reaction to this. I claim that Rothko is a great artist, but what makes an artist great? Paintings valued at 50 million plus? Not to my mind. What is it that makes an artist great or good or worthwhile? I believe the answer must be in their depth of vision. Something Rothko has, but more than just this it is their experimentation with ideas, their attempt to investigate something, to have an ongoing intellectual/artistic development, to try and say something that makes it worthwhile.

In conclusion, my lack of concern about (2.) means that my finding Rothko a great artist (3.) is unimportant, but I though you'd like to know that I do think Rothko worthwhile. I only mention this to contradict a lot, of what seems like, amusement with the damaging of 'modern art' something that most people (are told, by the tabloid press) dislike. An example of which is found on the satirical British website Daily Mash, I find the Daily Mash's response to be just too close to what a lot people think to be really funny. Actually, that's a lie, it's still funny. I laughed. I suppose that a Conservative reaction would be; Umanets is a vandal (broke a law), Art is precious (historic legacy), Rothko is not a great artist (modern art is rubbish). A Liberal 'art-lover' would react; Umanets is a vandal (defaced art), Art is precious (humanity's greatest achievement), Rothko is a great artist (apparently, have no reasons for this, but must be).

A response to Umanets in closing. It is obvious that he is legally a vandal and will probably get a three month sentence for this, in that he has damaged someone else's property. Much like if he stole your bike or pissed on your rug. Is art property, that is, an own-able valuable object? Under our current considerations, yes, obviously, but do I think that this should be the case? No. Should people be able to damage existed artworks just because they don't like them or they want to force a bullshit manifesto upon the world? I think the answer must be that you should not damage something simply because you dislike it, but perhaps because of what it represents (Thatcher statue). This doesn't mean Kelleher was right, but we should be able to voice our disgust with works like that (and if we're not, perhaps then destruction is allowable). Rothko's work was chosen arbitrarily (it seems) or perhaps only because of the artist's controversy (i.e. 'is it art?') or the object's value. Should we allow Umanets the time to voice his bullshit, simply because it's entertainment for the media? Not without an intellectually rigorous response, which is not yet forthcoming. That is to say, allow him the space to show how limited his Yellowism is, not celebrate his childish outburst. That he, an idiot, knows how to manipulate the media to get his daft message across is a laughable damnation of our culture.

P.S. Compare and contrast...

That's not a knife [vandalism], THAT'S a knife [vandalism]
Crocodile Dundee

I've just remembered that when David Nash's piece Big Bud was vandalised he remade it into Charred Cross Egg. Perhaps, because he was cross? Sorry, being silly, but he didn't try and restore it. What Rothko would do were he alive is a matter for speculation. Any guesses?