'Punch the Yellowist: Performance Art'

18/10/2012 09:29 BST | Updated 12/12/2012 10:12 GMT

There are only about three paintings on this planet that I am able to say that I 'like', but last week Vladimir Umanets, the Yellowist, decided that one of them wasn't quite good enough. So he decided to improve it, with the addition of some half-legible scribbling in one of its corners.

Off he toddled to the Tate Modern, permanent marker in hand, joining throngs of school children and art lovers on his way up the escalators as he formulated the perfect phrase to complement the beautiful painting in question, Rothko's 1958 Maroon on Black.

Having located his chosen masterpiece, he calmly inscribed "Vladmir woz 'ere" (as far as I can tell) and, pleased with his work, toddled off home again, safe in the knowledge that his handiwork had not decreased the value of Rothko's work. No, graced with Yellowism, the mural was sure to be worth even more.

Mr Umanets, before being arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage, confirmed that he was 'not a vandal', and that he was 'not seeking attention', merely displaying that his movement, Yellowism, 'is not art, and isn't anti-art.'

Of course, I couldn't begin to disagree with Mr Umanets, the Yellowist. His movement is clearly a powerful one. Similar to that which I experienced the other morning, after accidentally ordering a Jalfrezi instead of my usual Bhuna. You don't argue with movements like that.

But I do have a few thoughts on the painting that Mr Umanets, the Yellowist, decided to unload his movement upon.

I know very little about art, and I know many consider Rothko's Late Period to be a series of blocks of random colour, daubed onto canvas in such a way as any human over the age of 4 could achieve. But, in my ignorance, sitting in front of this painting and the other Seagram Murals I experienced an emotional response that I cannot explain. As strong as watching Jonny Wilkinson strike that wonderful drop goal in 2003; marginally stronger than the last time I found a forgotten £20 note in my jacket pocket.

The presence they have is incredible, and taking in the palpable senses of joy, melancholy, wonder, excitement and dread that streamed from the murals, I was struck by how grateful I am to live in Britain. To live in a country with the resources, and the cultural vision, to display masterpieces such as these for people of all creeds, classes and levels of wealth to enjoy, free of charge, and without the kind of screens and security that obscure that 'great' painting in the Louvre.

Which is why seeing Mr Umanets' scribbling, reading his story and hearing his quotes, filled me with anger and sadness. Because his behaviour, his ridiculous, feeble attempt at art-school controversy, has not only scarred one masterpiece, but has the potential to change the way in which art is displayed in this country. I want to be able to concentrate on the emotions this artwork makes me feel, rather than trying to spot where the restorers removed the scribbling, or wondering when the security guard is going to decide I've been staring in a suspicious manner and ask me to leave.

So Mr Umanets is not a Yellowist, but a vandal. Send him to jail, deport him, make an example of him. Better still, organise for everyone who, like me, was saddened by his actions, to line up and punch him in the face, one by one. Mr Umanets himself can set up a camera to film it, if he likes. Call it performance art. It might even be considered 'Yellowist'.

Because one masterpiece has been ruined, and in saving all the others, we might have to lose the open way in which we are able to display art in this country. And whatever one idiot might say, that definitely is anti-art.