Backlight – Art Vandalism

Art and art vandalism are equally old

Every time has its trashers

The motives are multifaceted

Culprits come in many shapes and sizes

From frivolous youngsters to dejected believers

Public art often perishes due to an excess of Heineken

Ironic art due to an excess of god

Political activists destroy the past

In their struggle for a better future

Psychopaths need little cause to go at it

Many a house painter does not see the difference

Between a soiled wall and a mural

To the art lover ‘The Thinker’ is a masterpiece

To the criminal marketable copper

Even conservators and restorers are known to transgress

Artists destroy their ‘failures’

Or challenge the ageless value of art


One should take art vandalism quite seriously

The term speaks for itself

Naturally, the destruction of two Barnett Newman’s in the Amsterdam’s Stedelijk was a drama

The drama increased

When the American restorer destroyed ‘Who’s afraid of red yellow and blue’ once more with his paint roller

Naturally it was quite a scare when a madman launched himself at the ‘Night Watch

When a patient cut a bite out of a beautiful Picasso

The damage of Michelangelo’s ‘Piëta’ by a frustrated artist was atrocious

Just as the ideological destructiveness of Adolf Hitler and his cohorts was an ineffaceable catastrophe


Nevertheless there are also examples to the contrary

I can only laugh when I read that an artist once urinated in the famous ‘Fountain’ (piss pot) of Marcel Duchamp

By doing so intending to turn the concept of the readymade on its head

I also found it comical when I heard that a French female artist

Out of admiration for Cy Twombly

And by means of performance

Pressed her painted red lips to a painting of his

When I saw that a mural by street artist Banksy was accidentally painted over in black by an Englishman who wanted to do something about the degradation of his neighborhood I felt not the slightest bit of sorrow

When I heard Shepard Fairy, the street artist whom in the beginning of his career was a threat to the walls of Los Angeles, seriously complain in an interview about the vandals who had covered his studio with graffiti, I smilingly put out my cherished Fairy catalogues with the trash


Kurt Nahar, The Last Supper, 2011

The most recent example of art vandalism – served to me at home by Facebook – had struck many predecessors

An engaged Surinamese artist had, during an artist in residence period in Brussels, made works in response to the sex scandals involving the church there

The disgraceful downfall of the popular cardinal Daneels drove his inspiration to great heights

One of his installations became a variation of the famous ‘The Last Supper’ by Da Vinci

A dangerous experiment

Because many artists had already rather unsuccessfully attempted this

He managed however to successfully parry his predecessors

His Christ figure became a cliché Maria

His disciples became twelve colorful dildos

In all realistic and imagined proportions

A large black one prominently in front of the immaculately conceived


Within a day a miscreant had violated this work

Within a day a dildo had been stolen

It turned out to be the Judas


For a moment the artist considered to restore it back to twelve

Until he realized that the thief had proven to be a true engaged artist

A stronger statement than that, he himself could never had made


Occasionally art vandalism deserves better



From art haters to art lovers

From innocent house painters to cunning thieves

Even conservators and restorers have been known to transgress



TEXT Rob Perrée works as freelance writer, art critic and curator, specialized in contemporary (Afro-)American art, African art and art that incorporates new media. His work has appeared in numerous catalogues, books, magazines and newspapers. He is editor of the Dutch art magazine Kunstbeeld. Most recently he was involved with the new book on Marcel Pinas: ‘Artist, more than an artist’. 

This column has been published before in Kunstbeeld, June 2011.


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