Rebel art goes too far with defaced Rothko
Artist Mark Rothko might have wanted to leave the themes of his works up to interpretation, but the artist left little room for ambiguity in what he saw as the right and wrong places to display his art.
Back in 1958, Rothko received a commission for The Four Seasons, a restaurant that was opening inside the then-new Seagram building in Manhattan, N.Y.
But something about showcasing his artwork inside the restaurant rubbed Rothko the wrong way â namely the overt display of wealth within the restaurant, from patrons or otherwise. He saw it as the wrong place to display his art, and though he initially wanted to undermine dinersâ experience by making the paintings hard to look at, he ultimately called off the commission altogether. He returned the money to Seagram, and today the nine works originally created for the restaurant now reside in Londonâs Tate Modern museum, the Kawamura Memorial Museum in Japan and National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
Itâs the setting that Rothko wouldâve preferred. Here, people come to view art, not to enjoy a bourgeois eating experience. Here, people speak of Rothko in the atmosphere of art scholarship and critique, not to boast to their co-workers about their expensive meal at a plush restaurant.
Yet even if Rothkoâs works fits better in this atmosphere, that doesnât shield it from all dangers. Though plenty of viewers visit the Tate to view the work from afar, one visitor got too close to âBlack on Maroon.â
On Oct. 7, Vladimir Umanets, a leader of the âYellowismâ movement, added an inscription to the work, painting out his own name, the last two digits of the year and the phrase âa potential piece of Yellowismâ on Rothkoâs original painting. Though Umanets defends his actions, unless you are an equally famous art figure â and even so â the act of tampering with classic works of art does not go unpunished.
Though the art world fumes about the incident, Umanets has taken the opportunity to spread his ideas on art. The movementâs website, ThisIsYellowism.com. immediately gives Yellowismâs manifesto, a long-winded paragraph that starts with the statement, âYellowism is not art or anti-art.â
The website shows a variety of images, a good amount of them disturbing, that allude in some way to Yellowism, an idea centered around expressing the color yellow. Among the many entangled ideas the movement presents are the thoughts that âexamples of Yellowism can look like works of art but are not works of art,â and âYellowism can be presented only in yellowistic chambers.â
Somehow, Umanets thought Rothkoâs âBlack on Maroonâ would serve as the perfect way to explore the ideas ofÂ Yellowism. Through his actions, it would seem that Umanets considers Rothko an artist who exemplifies Yellowism and doesnât see his act as one of vandalism but as a way of changing perceptions about the artwork, something that might be hard to swallow for die-hard Rothko fans.
âBlack on Maroonâ shows characteristic Rothko tendencies â itâs large, presents the viewer with huge color fields and evokes feeling with its simple composition. This piece, in particular, stands on the more somber side of the artistâs works, the dark colors seeming to swallow the canvas whole, filling the viewerâs field of vision with near darkness. Though its creation dates back to 1958, itâs dark mood remains timeless. By standing in front of this Rothko, a viewer can sense the power of color and understand an artistâs ability to take a variety of approaches to creating his or her own aesthetically unique work.
Umanets is no Rothko. Heâs not known for creating huge pieces of art and, if anything, most of the attention he has been receiving comes in the form of anger.
The journey of the Seagram-sponsored murals already possesses a rebellious spirit. The murals stayed in the museum gallery to avoid the turned-up noses of rich restaurant eaters. They did not need the wayward fervor of an artist unafraid of ruining a masterpiece for the viewing of everyone else. Rothkoâs message feels contemporary without Umanetsâ contribution.
If itâs truly a piece of Yellowism, then âBlack on Maroonâ shouldâve remained unscrawled so it could exist as a pristine example of what Yellowism should look like. If Umanets revered the piece, it would follow that he would respect it accordingly. Under any art movement name, Rothkoâs creations would look the same, and itâs ultimately no oneâs right to take the liberty of changing its surface. Until Yellowism takes off into a full-fledged art movement with its own veritable artworks, it is best advised that it leave classic works of art alone.
Eva Recinos is a senior majoring in English. Her column âTwo Cents A Pieceâ runs Tuesdays.