A Mark Rothko painting vandalized at London's Tate Modern
gallery 18 months ago went back on public view on Tuesday after
the first-ever effort to strip graffiti ink off a major artwork
without damaging the layers of paintwork.
Rothko's "Black on Maroon" was attacked in October 2012 by an
aspiring artist who scrawled "Vladimir Umanets '12, A Potential
Piece of Yellowism" in a lower corner. One of the Seagram Murals
commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in 1958, the
painting was valued at five million to nine million pounds by
Sotheby's. Rothko donated it to the Tate in 1970.
A Polish national called Wlodzimierz Umaniec, also known as
Vladimir Umanets, claimed the graffiti was a creative act to
promote his artistic movement, Yellowism. He ended up pleading
guilty to criminal damage and was jailed for two years in
Conservationists at the Tate Modern, one of the world's most
popular galleries, said Rothko paintings were notoriously
difficult to restore because of their complex paintwork, which
is made up of layers of oils, pigments, resins, glues and egg.
A team of three conservationists and scientists spent nine
months researching and testing about 80 solvents, six months
removing the ink, and three months restoring the surface.
"No one had ever used graffiti ink that is designed to be
permanent to damage a painting before and we knew how delicate
the paint surface was," Patricia Smithen, head of conservation,
told Reuters in front of the re-hung artwork. "We hope the work
we did on this painting will contribute to the conservation
world in the future."
Tate Director Nicholas Serota said the project had been far more
successful than anyone dared hope at the outset, recalling the
sickening feeling on being told of the attack.
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The Tate Modern dedicates a room to Rothko, who is considered one of
the 20th century's most important artists. His Seagram Murals were a
shift from his earlier use of bright, intense colors for dark
maroons, reds and black.
Serota said security was reviewed after the attack but gave no
details. He also brushed aside questions about the cost of
restoration or how it affected the artwork's value. At Umaniec's
trial, prosecution lawyer Gregor McKinley told the court the
restoration would cost about 200,000 pounds ($320,000).
"I have no idea what the value of the painting is and we are never
going to sell it," Serota told a news conference.
Umaniec has apologized for his actions, saying he now realized this
had not helped his movement, Yellowism, whose manifesto states it is
"not art or anti-art".
"I apologize to the British people for what I did. I suppose I
wanted to change the art world ... but of course I did it in a very,
very wrong way," he said in a video statement that was sent to
Reuters by his publicist.
"I spent almost a year and a half in prison and the British people
have paid huge restoration costs, so it definitely wasn't worth
doing it. Probably the only good thing is that the art world has
received a very strong message that something must be fundamentally
changed about its frozen situation."
(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; Editing by Larry King)
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