The sycophantic adoration of millions. Teams of burly security guards. A personal maintenance staff, and a motion-sensor alarm system for undesired others that get too close. Then there’s the eight-figure life insurance policy. Not to mention the gilded frame and Plexi-glass sneeze-guard.
These are things you deserve.
We at The Bare Square are well aware, when it comes to the art establishment, there are plenty of reasons to harbor contempt towards inanimate objects. Though we do not advocate violence against art, we believe that all people are aesthetically intriguing, and come complete with the conceptual underpinnings worthy of curatorial analysis. You too can be art.
And plenty have tried to make their mark.
Be it for motives of envy or insanity, many an iconoclast have bore the brunt of international outrage, through vandalistic endeavors that hit the art world right where it hurts. Here are three of the most audacious acts of art desecration in modern history.
Because sometimes we all have to rage against the machine.
1. London’s Sh*t Artist Sprays All Over Malevich, 1997
On January 4, 1997, Russian-born performance artist Alex Brener sought to express his feelings about the “corruption and commercialism” of the art world. The objet d′anger: Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematisme (1920-27), at the Stedelijk Museum of Modern Art, Amsterdam. Armed with green spray paint and a plan, he hand-scrawled a dollar sign on the painting, in line with the anatomical positioning of Christ on the crucifix. According to Brener, “Malevich wanted to change to the world using art. But now he is just a commercial site. [And] I’m a poet,” the artist said in his defense to Dutch prosecutors. The Amsterdam Criminal Court was by no means swooned by Brener’s noble intentions, and sentenced the artist to ten months imprisonment and two years probation. Along with a two-year ban from the Stedelijk Museum galleries.
But this was not nearly the artist’s first or last attempt at controversy. In 1994, he shat himself in front of a Van Gogh painting at the Fine Art Museum, Moscow. In 1995, he was arrested for masturbating on the diving board of a church swimming pool. And earlier in 2009, he was forcibly removed from the Gagosian Gallery in London for attempting yet another number-two in a public forum, among many other live-action installations involving corporeal fluid and excrement. For these reasons and more, ArtNet has affectionately dubbed Brener “London’s Shit Artist,” wreaking havoc at a European Gallery near you.
2. Criminal Slasher Returns To The Scene Of The Crime, 1997
A rough year for Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum, just a few weeks after Brener’s vandalism of the Malevich masterwork, unknown Dutch realist Gerard Jan van Bladeren, took a razorblade to Barnett Newman’s Cathedra (1951), shredding the $12 million canvas in a matter of twenty seconds. According to Stedelijk Museum director Rudi Fuchs, “It changes your life.”
But this was not the slasher’s first hate crime against the art establishment – in 1986, he destroyed another of Newman’s abstract works, “Red, Yellow, and Blue” (1966-67) originally valued at $1.3 million dollars, causing nearly $300,000 worth of damage. Convinced that his tryst with the razorblade “added something” to the original work, van Bladeren describes his motives as such: “I don’t hate all art. I just hate abstract art.” Be it a personal vendetta against Barnett Newman, be it a moral dilemma with the Abstract Expressionist’s trademark “zips,” van Bladeren was sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison, and a $15,000 fine paid to the court. The result: a well-deserved re-appraisal of museum security, to say the least.
3. Australian Psychopath Wails On The Virgin Mother
Australian geologist Laszlo Toth proved that if you mess with Michelangelo, you mess with the world. On May 21, 1972, the then thirty-three year old – later deemed a “cultural terrorist” by mass media outlets – broke from the crowds of camera-toting tourists at the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica, and stormed Michelangelo’s Vatican Pieta (circa 1555), depicting Jesus Christ cradled in the arms of the Virgin Mary.
Armed with a sledgehammer, screaming “I am Jesus Christ, risen from the dead,” he let slip fifteen blows upon the marbleized Madonna, taking out a chunk of her elbow, nose, and eyelid in the midst of his ravings.
Toth was later apprehended by Italian police, and had he been convicted, would have served up to nine years in prison. However, the court deemed him clinically insane, and sentenced him to two years in an Italian psychiatric hospital. Deported as an undesirable alien in 1975, he currently resides in Australia, living a quiet life as the second coming of Christ.
So the next time you find yourself at MoMa, blood boiling in front of a Breton, resist the urge to pee on the Mondrian. However justified in your feelings you might think yourself, an impending date with criminal court looms.
- Tom McKee