Note: The following rant was originally written in 2012. It has since been edited slightly to reflect the time passed.
In 2012, a man walked into the Tate Modern and scribbled on “Black On Maroon II”, a 1958 painting by Mark Rothko. “Vladimir Umanets” was hastily scrawled in the lower right corner, a nearly illegible dripping mess. I was outraged. How had this happened? I have since read of many more incidents of people defacing art in museums: not long ago a man punched a hole in a Monet. The Rothko incident remains frustratingly different from these acts of passion.
The man who defaced the painting claimed the act itself was art. Vladimir Umanets is a member of a movement he calls “Yellowism”. The Yellowist philosophy itself is utter nonsense. It draws no distinction between art, anti-art, or anything else for that matter. Yellowism is merely uninspired tagging backed by a manifesto that is somehow supposed to make the work more legitimate.
The execution of the tag is sloppy. Its bubbly, illegible text scribbled in dripping oil paint looks like a message scrawled in the back of a high school year book. Umanets did not even correctly judge how much space to leave himself to write his declaration. The “M” in Yellowism hangs below the rest of the word in a haphazard, amateur fashion.
He claims the act was something akin to appropriation; that by signing an artwork not made by him he was making it into a more valuable object. If we are to believe Umanets’s defense, the value attributed to “A Potential Piece of Yellowism” is entirely monetary. His tag is not a comment or an interpretation of Rothko’s “Untitled (Black on Maroon)”. The concept behind the act rings hollow. Unlike other works that have employed mark-making or appropriation to an earlier work by another artist (Rauschenberg’s “Erased de Kooning Drawing” comes to mind) the work does not say anything about art or about the work being altered.
“A Potential Piece of Yellowism” was conducted on a piece of private property–not personal or public property–which does not even elevate it to the status of graffiti or street art. The act was inconsiderate and disrespectful, without any semblance of valid concept or cleverness. The entire act seems to be solely for the purpose of narcissistic gain. Popularity and notoriety are its only end. Even then, it took a relatively long time (in “internet-time”, at least) for him and the movement to be recognized. The fact that the “artist” wavers between claiming it is art and claiming it is not weakens the piece even further. If the purpose was for it to be noticed, what are we noticing? Is it even worth our attention?