Art Attack!

Detail of "Two Tahitian Women" by Gauguin (1899)

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A visitor to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC last week attacked famed Gauguin painting “Two Tahitian Women” (1899), according to the Washington Post. The Post quotes New Yorker and eyewitness Pamela Degotardi as seeing and hearing a female visitor pounding at the protective plastic covering and screaming “This is evil!”

Apparently, another New Yorker, described by Degotardi as a social worker from the Bronx, tackled the woman, restraining her until federal protective officers could take over.

No damage to the painting resulted. In another New York connection, the Metropolitan Museum of Art loaned the National Gallery the Gauguin masterpiece for the National’s 120-piece exhibition of the artist’s work running through June 5.

Strangely, art has come under attack, literally and figuratively, many times over the years.

For example, last year a vandal successfully marked a Basquiat artwork with a felt-tip pen despite extensive security at Paris’s Modern Art Museum, says London newspaper website The Daily Mail. The work, “Cadillac Moon 1981″, has been removed from permanent display while a criminal investigation continues. Basquiat, the renowned street artist, helped put street art on the map and died at 27 because of a herion overdose. One of Basquiat’s works sold in 2007 for $14 million.

Basquiat's recently defaced "Cadillac Moon 1981"

In Pittsburgh in 2008, a security guard at the Carnegie Museum of Art slashed a $1.2 million painting, Vija Celmins’ “Night Sky #2″, with a key repeatedly. According to reports, the 28-year-old guard did not like the painting. Ultimately, the culprit served house arrest for 11 to 23 months with an electronic monitoring device, 5 years’ probation, 500 hours of community service, a $5,000 fine, and restitution of $245,000 for lost value.

In 1999, the Brooklyn Museum of Art succeeded in shocking with its show “Sensation: Young British Artists From The Saatchi Collection”. The exhibit included a work called “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996) by UK artist Chris Ofili. Made partly of elephant dung and photos of female genitalia, the artwork spurred local protests, national outrage, international headlines, and a failed attempt by then-Mayor Giuliani to punish the Brooklyn Museum through budget cuts or eviction. Where Giuliani failed, one person accomplished his goal. One of the 200,000 eventual attendees, a then 72-year-old retired teacher and devout Catholic, feigned a heart attack and smeared the painting with white latex paint. In the end, he served no jail time and received probation and a $250 fine.

- James Wallace

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