Mark Rothko painting defaced at Tate Modern: Could it happen here?
Last fall, the late artist Mark Rothko took center stage at the Goodman Theatre in Red, John Logan’s Tony Award–winning play about his struggle to complete a series of murals for the Four Seasons in 1958. On Sunday, Rothko reentered the limelight as one of the paintings featured in the Goodman production was vandalized at the Tate Modern in London.
Vladimir Umanets, a 26-year-old artist, is accused of writing “Vladimir Umanets, a potential piece of yellowism,” in black ink on the bottom right-hand corner of Rothko's Black on Maroon.
Is art in Chicago susceptible to similar crimes? The city has seen plenty of art vandalism. The Haymarket Memorial Statue has been on the receiving end of graffiti artists’ rampages since the 1960s, and after being bombed twice, was removed from its pedestal on West Jackson Street. In 2010, SAIC graduate student Anida Yoeu Ali’s 1700%, a piece depicting hate crimes against Muslims, was defaced with drawings during her M.F.A. show. Richard Serra’s sculpture Reading Cones in Grant Park and Henry Bacon’s Illinois Centennial Monument in Logan Square are tagged constantly.
The Art Institute of Chicago was a victim of graffiti in February 2010, when the outside wall of its Modern Wing was elaborately tagged. The AIC declined to comment when asked about its security policies in light of the Rothko incident, as did the Museum of Contemporary Art. “It’s one of the rare things I won’t comment about,” says MCA spokeswoman Karla Loring. The Smart Museum of Art explained how doing so might affect museum security:
“We constantly monitor and refine these arrangements, and any further discussion of those arrangements would have the potential, of necessity, of compromising them. Thus we will not respond to questions about how we handle these matters,” said Smart Museum spokeswoman Cindy Hansen.
DePaul Art Museum director Louise Lincoln says her museum has recording cameras and gallery monitors in every public space during open hours, but acknowledges that the Rothko incident could contribute to strengthened procedures. “I think it’s probably a reminder for all museums and their security staffs to be more vigilant, because honestly I think sometimes things like this will set off a little copycat activity,” Lincoln says. “So, we would be watching more closely for people getting too close to works on the wall, people getting within touching range of sculptures. We would be more vigilant about collecting people’s bags when they come into the museum so they’re not walking around carrying a bag full of Sharpies.”