Vladimir Umanets, Mark Rothko And The Cowardly Folly of Art Vandalism

08/10/2012 14:01 BST | Updated 08/12/2012 10:12 GMT

"Fame" declared Socrates, "is the perfume of heroic deeds".

Vladimir Umanets, the man who walked into the Tate Modern this week, took out a marker pen and wrote over a Mark Rothko painting encapsulates why this ancient, beautiful notion is no longer true.

He has lodged himself in the headlines of the art world for a day or two by committing an act of selfishness, becoming in the process the art world equivalent of a Big Brother contestant, impatient for success and looking for a shortcut to it.


"I don't need to be famous, I don't want money, I don't want fame, I'm not seeking seeking attention," Umanets told the press, referring writing his own name on a famous painting, in a voluntary interview, given a day after it happened.

Instead he tried to justify vandalising the piece on the grounds that it would help promote his own project, 'Yellowism', which he described as "not art, and not anti-art. Yellowism is an element of contemporary visual culture. It's not an artistic movement.

"It's not art, it's not reality, it's just Yellowism. It can't be presented in a gallery of art, it can be presented only in a Yellowistic chambers.

Precisely, in other words, the kind of incomprehensible drivel that puts people off art and artists in general.

Vandalised paintings, of course, leads us down only one path: tighter security measures at galleries, lenders being more reluctant to send works to Britain, and art becoming less accessible for you, me and generations to come.

That's what makes art vandalism, no matter what vague cause you try and attach it to, a selfish act.

"I strongly believe in what I am doing, I have dedicated my life to this" Umanets said.

Belief in and dedication to what? Nothing about his actions or his explanation give us any clue.

Perhaps Umanets is a great undiscovered artist in his own right. Perhaps yellowism, properly explained, has something interesting to say.

But both possibilities have been undermined, not highlighted, with one lazy grab for notoriety.

For Umanets, fame can be best described as the pong of a cowardly deed.