Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Yellowism - A New Definition for Vandalism?

Sunday is usually the busiest day of the week for most of London’s art galleries and museums.  In addition to the ever-present throng of tourists, Sunday is the day when city dwellers, freed of the shackles of the working week and the tyranny of Saturday chores, venture out to explore all that London has to offer.

And for the Tate Modern, that temple on the banks of the Thames dedicated to the worship of modern and contemporary art, this past Sunday was no exception.  From the time the doors swung open at 10am, the crowds began to build, with attendance reaching its zenith by mid-afternoon.

But, as it turned out, this particular Sunday was to prove rather more exceptional that anyone at Tate Modern could possibly have predicted.  Because, unbeknownst to the overworked museum staff and the hordes of jaded art lovers elbowing their way around the various exhibition spaces that make up gallery’s cavernous interior, one man stood poised and ready to commit the ultimate act of vandalism – the defacement of one of the world’s most valuable works of art.

Tate Modern's Rothko Room
The target was Mark Rothko’s Black on Maroon (1958), one of a series of large murals (originally commissioned by the Seagram beverage company to adorn the walls of the company’s premises in Park Avenue, New York) which the artist bequeathed, free of charge, to the Tate in 1969.  This bequest was to prove something of a boon for Tate curators, especially considering the murals are now thought to be worth in the region of £50 million each.  And now, one of their number was about to be vandalized.

By 3.25pm, the deed was done.  Brandishing a brush and black paint, the culprit calmly (and in full view of anyone who happened to be passing), tagged Black on Maroon with the words ‘Vladimir Umanets ’12, A Potential Piece of Yellowism’.  Ironically, the defacer seems to have misjudged the space required because the graffiti was executed rather clumsily – the words were squished into the lower right-hand corner of the mural, while the runny paint dribbled messily into tiny black rivulets on the purple-hued canvas. 
The defaced canvas
Witnesses immediately raised the alarm, and the gallery was closed briefly while police were called in to investigate – albeit too late to ensnare the vandal, who had already fled the scene.  But considering Vladimir Umanets had used his real name in the cryptic message scrawled on Rothko’s canvas, it wouldn’t prove overly difficult for Scotland Yard’s finest to track him down …

And track him down they did.  The following evening, Sussex Police arrested Mr Umanets, a Polish national, in Worthing - and having been transferred into the custody of the Met Police, he was charged on suspicion of criminal damage.

Umanets has made no attempt to deny the allegations, freely admitting that he is the culprit.  He does, however, deny that he is a vandal, preferring instead to believe his actions have furthered the cause of the hitherto unheard-of Yellowism movement (of which, Umanets is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a founding member).
Umanets (R) with his Yellowism co-founder

So, what exactly is Yellowism?  A new art movement?  Or is it an anti-art statement?  Well, neither, apparently.  According to Umanets himself, "Yellowism is not art, and Yellowish isn't anti-art. It's an element of contemporary visual culture. It's not an artistic movement.  It's not art, it's not reality, it's just Yellowism. It can't be presented in a gallery of art, it can be presented only in Yellowistic chambers.  The main difference between Yellowism and art is that in art you have got freedom of interpretation, in Yellowism you don't have freedom of interpretation. Everything is about Yellowism - that's it.”

Confused? I certainly was. The art world is often guilty of adopting affected and grandiose vocabulary – but this opaque description of Yellowism was one of the most perplexing I have ever come across. I have, however, endeavoured to translate it for you, dear reader, into the following definition which may be somewhat easier to understand:

Yellowism is an undefinable, abstract movement borne out of an over-fertile, deluded, and most likely unhinged imagination. It has no obvious function except to increase the public profile (and consequently the income opportunities) of the owner of said imagination by engaging in the destruction of genuine works of art.
So there you have it. However, don’t expect this definition to enter the OED any time soon - after all, vandalism by any other name is still vandalism.

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