On October 8th, 2012, Vladimir Umanets tagged Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon) at the Tate Modern in London in dripping black oil paint, later declaring the act the creation of A Potential Piece of Yellowism. Umanets is a member of a movement he calls Yellowism. The Yellowist philosophy draws no distinction between art, anti-art, or even non-art objects. Umanets 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. However, the value attributed to A Potential Piece of Yellowism seems to be entirely monetary. “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,” Umanets said (Quinn).
His tag is not a comment on or an interpretation of Untitled (Black on Maroon). Unlike other works that have employed mark making on or appropriation of an earlier work by another artist, like Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, the work does not say anything about art or about the work being altered. Additionally, the destruction does not comment on the act of destruction itself, a primary tenet set forth at DIAS. The act is completely self-referential and almost entirely devoid of concept.
When the circumstances are altered even slightly, how do our feelings change toward actions toeing the line between vandalism and destruction art? The case of the arrest of French-Cambodian artist Rindy Sam in 2007 at first sounds similar to that of Umanets, and it would be easy to write it off as crime, as the French police did. Upon further inspection, the incident is more complicated. In July of 2007, Rindy Sam planted a kiss on a white part of one of three canvases comprising Cy Twombly’s Phædrus at an exhibition of his works in Avignon. The kiss left a lipstick print on the canvas, for which Sam was fined for property damage. ”I just gave it a kiss… It was an act of love; when I kissed it, I wasn’t thinking. I thought the artist would understand.” (“A Kiss Is Just a Kiss.”)