A man who calls himself Vladimir Umanets, described by some journalists as a homeless twentysomething Russian-born artist, recently admitted to signing (not defacing nor vandalizing, as Scotland Yard says) the 1958 “Black on Maroon” mural by another Russian-born artist, Mark Rothko, at the Tate Modern this month. Although there were guards on duty and video-cameras in the gallery, he was able to make a quick getaway. Afterwards in phone interviews with The Guardian and UK Times, Umanets said his signature in black ink and the words “a potential piece of yellowism” in the corner will make the mural more valuable. Note: Earlier this year, Rothko’s “Orange, Red, Yellow” was sold for £53.8 million (US$85 million) – the highest price ever paid for a piece of post-war art at auction. Just to put the claim in perspective.
Umanets is a co-founder of Yellowism and co-writer of its manifesto, which is riddled with contradictions and laden with abstruse concepts. One wonders if the manifesto isn’t a satire on the at-times overindulgent statements written by art historians and critics. Umanets compares himself to renegade artist Marcel Duchamp who, after he signed a urinal “R. Mutt 1917”, was himself compared to Leonardo da Vinci – both being profound philosopher-artists by some lights. An anonymously authored manifesto followed the urinal as it toured modern art museums, claiming: “Whether Mr Mutt made the fountain with his own hands or not has no importance. He CHOSE it.” The artist had succeeded in changing the perception of the object. A 1964 replica of Duchamp’s original urinal is also on display at Tate Modern. It is, ever so slightly, turning yellow.