Rothko painting defaced in London
Tim Wright says he captured the image of the defaced painting at Tate Modern on Sunday.
October 7th, 2012
03:53 PM ET

Rothko painting defaced in London

A Mark Rothko painting was defaced at London's Tate Modern on Sunday.

"Tate can confirm that at 15.25 this afternoon there was an incident at Tate Modern in which a visitor defaced one of Rothko's Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting. The police are currently investigating the incident," a museum spokeswoman wrote in an e-mail.

Museum-goer Tim Wright witnessed the act of vandalism and posted an image on Twitter.

The 23-year-old Bristol resident said he was at the Tate during a day trip to London with his girlfriend when the couple realized what was going on. He noticed a man walk into the exhibit, but he thought nothing of it until he heard a "smashing sound."

“It was very surreal. It wasn’t something we expected to see. One minute he sat down, and the next minute he put his foot over the barrier,” Wright said of the vandal.

Wright said they saw the man as he finished up the tag and then made his getaway. He and his girlfriend stayed at the exhibit while a group of nearby women went to find museum staff. An alarm soon went off, and the museum was evacuated. Wright said he and his girlfriend gave a description of the event to a museum employee.

Tate confirmed that the gallery was "briefly closed" due to the incident.

“It’s just not the thing you expect to see in an art gallery," Wright said. "I’ve never seen anything like it. It's quite shocking, actually.”

The defaced painting was a mural from Rothko's famed Seagram series. The Russian-American abstract expressionist was commissioned to do a series of paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant of the Seagram building in New York in 1958. Though he started the series of murals, he famously reneged, deciding the swanky New York restaurant wasn't an appropriate home for his art.

Rothko rejected the commission but completed paintings stemming from the project, many of which made their way into the halls of museums. The murals arrived in London as Rothko killed himself in 1970.

The murals have been on display at many of the Tate's locations as well as the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

Rothko's children, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, said in a statement that they were thankful for the support of others after the incident.

"The Rothko family is greatly troubled by yesterday's occurrence but has full confidence that the Tate Gallery will do all in its power to remedy the situation," the family said. "Our father donated his legendary Seagram paintings to the museum in 1969 sensing the commitment of the institution to his work and impressed by the warm embrace it had received from the British public. We are heartened to have felt that embrace again in the outpouring of distress and support that we and our father have received both directly and in public forums."

Speculation about the culprit's identity is starting to swirl, but police have offered few specifics. A Met police spokesman said the vandal is "a white man aged in his late 20s who subsequently left the scene, and there have been no arrests at this time.”

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Filed under: Art • Europe
soundoff (91 Responses)
  1. GAW

    Art critics are supposed to critique art not edit it to their liking.

    October 8, 2012 at 9:36 am | Report abuse |
  2. blackntanclan

    It has nothing to do with being "cute" – and it has nothing to do with the internet, either, smarty pants. The term "tag" has been used to describe the placement of a graffiti mark on an object for ages. So, when this vandal marked this painting with what appears to be his name/handle, the year, and a message, he "tagged" it. Sheesh.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:00 am | Report abuse |
  3. GrowUp

    @Tony: it is an improvement. Perhaps they should give the tagger a place in the museum for his work. Rothko is junk and he spent about as much effort on this "work" as did the tagger.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:17 am | Report abuse |
    • Duane

      It doesn't matter if it was an improvement or not, it was not his work to deface

      October 8, 2012 at 10:53 am | Report abuse |
  4. lagtat

    Even Banksy has enough respect for art that he never defaced a piece of it hanging in a museum. He just hung his own lol.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  5. vince

    this kind of thing seemst be on the rise in musuems lately - you've got to wonder if these people know they're getting videoed and lokoing for the 15 sec of fame. Its just sad that they want "the freedom of speech" to say something by denying the rights of others to look at an unmarked/undamaged painting. I think it's about respect - people just don't have respect much anymore for people, ideas, even works of art. I think it's sad we're moving toward the day that important pieces of art will always have to be behind glass or plexiglass and the only way you can get up and personl and look at the paint strokes will be online... takes away the whole musuem experience.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:20 am | Report abuse |
    • Carolin Shining

      The perpetrator here did not want freedom of speech. He wanted to stop freedom of speech for others, including Rothko. If he understood even a snippet of Rothko's premise, of the joining of spirituality with the material, particularly in the beautiful edges of his work, he would have never even thought of such a crime against humanity. The world at large is becoming more ignorant by the second.

      October 8, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
  6. M.E.

    There is nothing more cowardly and pathetic than destroying art because you're too much of a pathetic loser to create anything yourself. And I mean really, the twit had to go for a Rothko?! C'mon man, I love his work, hell the desktop on one of my monitors is one of his works. Couldn't you just have peed in the Duchamp "Fountain" like those two french guys a couple years ago?

    October 8, 2012 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Jamess

      Alright, calm down Mister.Enthusiast.
      There are other articles about which claim the painting can be restored, then, too, the apprehended man speaks of some other philosophy of his own "yellowism", so to say that he can't create anything is being rather small-minded of you.

      October 15, 2012 at 12:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. History Bear

    Defacing "art" is a no-no , doesn't matter how bad it is. That being said Rothko is not a talent despite what the "critics" say.

    October 8, 2012 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • mskatfud

      I have to agree. Rothko works are boring boring boring. We have some crappy corporate art prints of Rothko's work hanging at the office and it's everything I can do to keep from "fixing" them.

      October 8, 2012 at 11:15 am | Report abuse |
    • Prefection

      mskatfud, I admit, I wasn't a Rothko fan until I saw them in person, and "got it." You need to understand that most of his works are enormous, not "corporate art print" size. You fall into them, and experience them. He removed all of the nonsense from his paintings and worked to preserved the emotion that art ignites. Please spend some time with art you may not understand, especially the art that may turn you off. It has something to teach you. If it doesn't, there will be more, and don't deride the people for whom the art holds meaning.

      October 8, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      Sorry, but there is no "getting" Rotho because there is nothing there to get. I refer you to the London gallery that hung one of his works sideways for three months, because it was so meaningless that they couldnt tell which way it went. If the gallery staff, art experts, and all the viewers, critics from amateur to professional, couldnt tell the difference...

      October 8, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      I keep hearing about his mastery of tone, texture, and color. I personally know three gentlemen with a similar mastery of tone, texture and color. They painted my interior walls a few years ago.

      October 8, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • tyrchaos

      they should thank him at least he made someone notice it. primary school art – boring
      I dont believe in defacing art but my dog could come up with something more artistic
      I can understand the church where the woman defaced the mural charging to see it, the novelty value at the moment "might" help them be able to star getting the MESS sorted out

      October 10, 2012 at 3:03 am | Report abuse |
  8. Hooligan

    Tagging is reserved for blank, bleak walls and droll government buildings.... And even then a majority of it is uninspired and solely the name of the tagger in a vain attempt to create "art" by merging the "art" with his/or name simultaneously.

    I am an avid fan of Graffiti art and love the broad scapes of innercity letters and symbols in bright colors. But to cover someone elses work.. even in the tagging and graffiti scene, is the ultimate sign of disrespect. This was not an act of expression, anyone who tags or gets up knows that paining over someones work on the street without permission can result in a very violent outcome. This was done an "F-YOU" to the museum, the public, and to the art itself.

    October 8, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jeff

    Rothko believed himself to be a maker of myths. He desired to paint pictures that, like myths, speak to the human emotions, the human conditions, that transcend time and culture. This was Rothko’s intention, no doubt. However, painting for the emotionally and morally bankrupt society of the 40s, 50s, and 60s proved to be a difficult task. In this modern hustling and bustling society, a society emotionally and morally bankrupt by the superficiality of modern life after the most violent war in human history, Rothko’s work was misinterpreted as relaxing, soothing pictures that calmed the soul—an escape from the lackluster monotony of everyday life. Society was numbed from the inhuman violence of WWII, so Rothko’s violent pictures were misunderstood. Rothko was attempting to make myths that speak to the novel violence that humans believed themselves to be incapable of performing, but society was too numbed, too busy trying to relax and escape, to understand Rothko’s wordless teachings.

    October 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jesse Pinkman

    I would have put this perp in a choke hold until the police showed up.

    October 9, 2012 at 3:08 am | Report abuse |
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