What Kind of People Vandalize & Destroy Art?
Updated: Sep 13, 2022
Some of my works were vandalized so I wanted to find out exactly what kind of people are capable of vandalizing and destroying art. Michelangelo’s Pietà was vandalized with a hammer. This timeless, magnificent work of art received 12 blows. The culprit was an unemployed geologist with mental issues.
The Mona Lisa by Da Vinci was attacked 4 times (twice in the same year) at home and abroad. In 1956 it was doused in acid while on temporary loan to a museum in Southern France; at the end of that same year, a Bolivian national threw a rock at the painting. The painting was then placed behind bullet proof glass but still In 1976 a handicapped woman spray painted it. She was upset by the museum's lack of access for the disabled (Tokyo National Museum). In 2009 a Russian woman mad at being denied French citizenship threw a mug at the painting. She had bought the mug in the museum’s gift shop.
In 1996 here in New York at the MOMA a so-called artist vomited blue gelatin on Pete Mondrian’s Composition in White, Black and Red. He claimed the painting was trite and boring and needed some color. Incidentally this person had vandalized another painting by vomiting on it red gelatin. In my opinion no real artist would on purpose ruin another artist’s work. Verbally, maybe but never physically.
The painter Alice Neel had most of her early work destroyed by one of her lovers in a fit of jealousy. Here is a later work, the portrait of Stephen Shepard.
Rembrandt’s Night Watch was vandalized three times in the last century. It took four years to restore it after the second attack. The third time was in 1990. A Dutch man threw sulfuric acid on it. One of the guards quickly applied a neutralizing agent and was able to contain the damage. No reason was given for the attack. It is believed that this vandal also badly damaged a Picasso painting nine years later with a kitchen knife.
The portrait of Henry James done by John Singer Sargent was attacked by a suffragist with a meat cleaver and hacked three times. Sargent was able to quickly fix it with the help of restorers. James wrote to a friend: “Yes, it was a nasty one, or rather a nasty three—for she got at me thrice over before the tomahawk was stayed. I naturally feel very scalped and disfigured, but you will be glad to know that I seem to be pronounced curable—to all probability, that is, when the experts have well looked into me. The damage, in other words, isn’t past praying for, or rather past mending, given the magic of the modern mender’s art.”
This painting, The Inner Chamber, was one of four of my paintings that were vandalized at a show a few years back. I went to check on the paintings a few days before the opening and as I looked at them, I had this gut wrenching feeling that something was wrong. Someone had drawn circle on the eyes with a magic marker. I ran to get some fluid and I was able to fix them.
The Rokeby Venus by Velázquez was attacked by a suffragist in 1914 at The National Gallery in London. She used a meat cleaver to smash the protective glass and then she continued to slash the canvas. She said: “I didn’t like the way men visitors to the gallery gaped at it all day.” This vandal would later become a member of the British Union of Fascists during the 1930s.
As you can see from my previous posts, individual acts of vandalism against art have been done by the deranged, the disgruntled, the attention seeker and the individual with a “cause”. Both men and women have taken knives, hammers, meat cleavers, and other items to destroy their target. Fists, spitting, throwing rocks and spraying sulfuric acid and other substances have also been used. And let’s not forget scribbled on. Mark Rothko’s painting, “Black on Maroon” was written on. The vandal wrote his name on the painting with the following phrase “a potential piece of yellowism”.
Political regimes have not spared art. ISIS specifically has targeted thousand years old centers of culture known for their diversity in Syria and Iraq. Their aim: total destruction. What remains of a people if you destroy their culture?
The Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan were dynamited and destroyed in March 2001 by the Taliban. Their leader declared that they were idols. Give whatever reason you want, but it comes down to destroying art and the culture of a people. The Buddhas were a classical representation of Greek-Buddhist art known as Gandhara art.
And then there is vandalism of art committed by narrow minded thinking and sheer human stupidity. Loincloths were applied to many of the figures in Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement. Some applied as late as the 17th and 18th century were later removed. Those applied much earlier could not be removed.