Rothko Vandalized at the Tate Modern

The defaced Rothko

On Sunday afternoon at the Tate Modern a man walked up to this untitled Mark Rothko mural and painted over the work. The man then left the building. The Guardian report has the reaction of a witness to the criminal act:

Tim Wright, who posted a picture on Twitter of the canvas after it was defaced, said that he saw the man sitting quietly in front of the painting beforehand. “Then we heard the sound of a pen, but by the time we turned around he was pretty much finished with his tag,” said Wright, who was with his girlfriend on a weekend visit to London from Bristol. “The pen ink then just dripped down the painting. Once we realised what had happened, we went to find a member of staff. They were really shocked when they came and saw what he had done.” The museum said in a statement: “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.” The gallery was closed for a short time after the incident. The canvas, one of a number by Rothko owned by the Tate, was in a room with several other works painted by the Russian-born artist, who emigrated to the US at the age of 10 and went on to become one of America’s most important postwar artists.

These incidents keep happening with alarming regularity. Proactive museum security may have been able to prevent this. The museum will certainly be taking a look at its own security, but the very small amount of time it probably takes to deface a work in this way makes the task difficult. Large museums which are very accessible to the public are a real challenge for security. Given the Menil tagging here in our neighborhood in Houston this summer, are we exaggerating too much to say the street art tagging movement is moving inside museums.

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