- Written by Peter Burnett Peter Burnett
Subsequent to Vladimar Umanets’ Yellowist deface of Mark Rothko’s painting Black on Maroon an excerpt from The Studio Game from Fledgling Press.
■ People destroy works of art for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they believe that a work of art is valued by other people more than they are. Others have had political motives.
cf. Paul Kelleher : The Destruction of the Statue of Margaret Thatcher Abortively with a Cricket Bat and then with a Metal Pole (2002) Criminal Damage on marble, three month sentence.
Sometimes a mania is a personal fixation that carries itself to a violent conclusion, much like a murder — and sometimes it’s an accident — as in the case of Heery the Hippie of Multiple Solitude who built a twenty foot driftwood Ossian, which blew away into the porridge of the North Sea.
Then there was the time that Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Diego Rivera to paint a mural for him. This was going very well until Rivera’s finished work was found to feature an image of Lenin and the scene was pulverised. Rockefeller just wouldn’t have it and the art had to be annihilated.
Sometimes, and for reasons postmoydern, the destruction of the work can be integral to the work itself. I think of David Mach’s matchstick bust of R.L. Stevenson, which several of us saw go up in flames in a Scottish town, circa 2001.
Liska interrupted. “The sale of art doesn’t destroy the artist. It only destroys the art — surely?”
cf. Clementine Ogilvy Spencer-Churchill : Destruction of Graham Sutherland’s Portrait of Winston Churchill, (1954) oil on canvas, in ribbons, on fire.
“Destruction is different from deface,” I said.
My favourite defaces both concern the same work, Tracey Emin’s My Bed (1998) I’ve heard a tale that a woman with OCD found My Bed so frustrating that she approached it and actually made the bed. Later, two performance artists, Yuan Chai and Jian Jun Xi, jumped on the bed with bare torsos in order to improve the work, which they thought had not gone far enough. They called their performance Two Naked Men Jump Into Tracey's Bed. The men also had a pillow fight on the bed for around fifteen minutes, to applause from the crowd, before being removed by security guards. The artists were detained but no further action was taken.