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More on Tate’s Vandalized Rothko (plus update on Menil’s Defaced Picasso) UPDATED

Tate Modern’s entrance: How did the Rothko vandal evade security and slip out the door?

[More on this, here.]

UPDATE: An arrest in this case has now reportedly been made [via].

What I hate about journalistic coverage of “statement” crimes—deplorable acts undertaken to make dubious points—is that it bestows fame on the perpetrator, giving widespread, prominent exposure to his bizarre views.

That’s how the story is developing today, regarding yesterday’s vandalism to one of Rothko‘s Seagram Murals at the Tate Modern. (I have linked to some of the coverage of the vandal’s self-justification, but won’t wallow in this muck myself.)

The coverage that irks me most is the two minutes of audio that the BBC has given over to the incoherent ramblings of the suspect, who (to the best of my knowledge) has yet to be apprehended. (If you must hear his comments, you can search the web for this yourself.)

As I wrote in yesterday’s post on this London incident, it brings to mind last June’s videoed Picasso attack at the Menil Collection in Houston. So how are that conservation project and criminal investigation going?

The answer, according to an e-mailed response from Menil spokesperson Vance Muse, is—slowly:

Nothing new to report there, except that that delicate work is going
extremely well, though it is taking time. It is, as you know, a
painstaking process.
The work should be completed by the end of the year, but we have no plans to put it back on view immediately.
Once the work is completed, we will have photographs.

All we know of the HPD [Houston Police Department] investigation is that it is ongoing and that the
two parties (the Menil and the Police Department) are in close contact. We cannot comment beyond that on an ongoing investigation.

Something of what the Tate’s conservators may be up against in trying to remove graffiti while maintaining the integrity of Rothko’s delicate, matte paint surface is evident on the Tate’s own website. In a 2008 Rothko Conservation video, Leslie Carlyle, the museum’s head of conservation, noted that “the paint surface [of Rothkos] is incredibly subtle and very, very, very thin.”

Tate conservator head Leslie Carlyle with the Rothkos in 2008

She may want to touch base with Carol Mancusi-Ungaro, director of the Harvard Art Museums’ Center for the Technical Study of Modern Art, who worked extensively on the Menil Collection’s Rothko Chapel murals when she was chief conservator at the Menil Collection.

The big unanswered question about the Tate incident is how the culprit managed to exit the museum (as did the Menil’s vandal) without being apprehended. As Anita Singh of the Telegraph reported today, “Police are studying the footage” from the museum’s security cameras in the gallery, and “typically, each room is monitored by a single gallery attendant.”

Regarding the security situation, Tate spokesperson Helen Beeckmans said this in an e-mail to me today:

Tate has strong security systems in place including physical barriers, security officers in the galleries, alarms and CCTV.

With all this, why were the museum and its guards unequal to the task of catching the vandal? We can only hope that they figure out a way to shorten their response time to the “strong security systems.”

Beeckmans also announced that the defaced work was “Black on Maroon,” 1958 (not 1959, as I had guessed yesterday from the visual evidence). There are several paintings of that date and title on the Tate’s Rothko webpage, and Beeckmans has not yet answered my follow-up query regarding the identity of the affected work. She said that she did not “have an image of the work [prior to damage] to release to
[the] press.”

Not only have they been slow to identify the affected work but, as far as I can tell, there is still nothing on the Tate’s website about this incident.

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