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'Yellowist' Rothko vandal jailed for two years


The self-proclaimed artist, who caused outrage by vandalising a masterpiece by Mark Rothko in the name of a movement he created, has been jailed for two years.

Wlodzimierz Umaniec shocked onlookers in October as he calmly stepped over a barrier in the Tate Modern’s Rothko Room and scrawled a message in the bottom of one of the much-loved works in black ink.

"Tate is pleased that the court has recognised the severity of this incident and its consequences when sentencing Wlodzimierz Umaniecs to two years in prison," a spokeswoman for the gallery said.

The 26-year-old signed his name Vladimir Umanets on the 1958 mural called Black on Maroon, and wrote underneath “A potential piece of yellowism” referring to an art movement he had created.

While initial estimations of the work’s value had been higher, Sotheby’s told the Tate that the painting was worth between £5m and £9m before the damage.

Judge Roger Chapple said at the Inner London Crown Court, that Umaniec’s actions “were entirely deliberate, planned and intentional”.

Referring to yellowism, the Judge added it was “wholly and utterly unacceptable to promote it by damaging a work of art”

The definition of the movement remains obtuse. One adherent, called Ben Smith, said: “Everything is equal. Everything is art. Everything is a potential piece of yellowism.”

The Polish national, who lives in West Sussex, admitted criminal damage to the value of over £5,000. The court heard that while he had gone to the gallery to put his “signature” on a painting, he only decided on the Rothko when he saw it on display.

The prosecutor said the mural would need 20 months’ work to restore it as the ink had seeped through the paint and into the canvas. The process is likely to cost about £200,000.

Rothko donated a number of canvasses to the Tate in 1969, which had originally been commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York.

His work is highly sought after and fetches huge sums at auction. In May the piece Orange, Red, Yellow was sold for $86.9m, the highest price for a piece of contemporary art sold at auction.