Color is frightening. From the color of one’s skin to the color of a painting, it can stir up unlikely obsessions: all kinds of irrational responses tend to explode without provocation. Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko have two things in common: wide expanses of color and the proclivity for people to deface their paintings more than any other Abstract Expressionist work.
Take Barnett Newman’s series of paintings, “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue,” which has provoked vandalism on more than one occasion. In 1982, Josef Nikolaus Kleer, a 29-year-old veterinary student, attacked “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV” (1969–70), which was hanging in the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, with one of the plastic security bars intended to separate viewers from the painting.
–excerpted from “Who’s Afraid of Hot Pink, Canary Yellow, and Midnight Blue?” by John Yau at hyperallergic.com