After vandalizing a canvas estimated to be worth millions, Vladimir Umanets has been called a “pretentious idiot” and a “coward.” Observers describe his actions as “violent” and “abhorrent.”
I propose a different word for him: unoriginal.
What Umanets scrawled on “Black and Maroon,” a mural by acclaimed modern artist Mark Rothko, was just a different name for an idea that’s been around for ages.
Under his name, Umanets wrote, “A potential piece of Yellowism,” in reference to a movement that, according to its website, is “about yellow and nothing more.”
“Examples of Yellowism can look like works of art but are not works of art,” reads Umanets’ manifesto on www.thisisyellowism.com.
Well, that certainly clears things up.
The point of Umanets’ movement — as far as I can tell from the garbled English on the Yellowism site — seems to be that the context in which a piece of art is displayed plays a part in creating its meaning.
The site says that when shown in a Yellowistic chamber (whatever that is), a work of art loses all meaning and becomes only about the color yellow.
The idea that changing how and where a piece of art is displayed can change its meaning is not groundbreaking. It’s been around at least since Marcel DuChamp pioneered the idea of the “ready-made” — a found object presented as art — nearly a century ago. He installed these objects (most famously a urinal) in museums in the hopes of calling into question the definition of “art.”
More recently, Banksy, a British graffiti artist, sneaked his own art onto the wall in the Tate Modern in London, the same place where Umanets vandalized the Rothko.
“I think that, in a lot of ways, says the same thing, but smarter and without ruining artwork that other people enjoy,” said Colin Nesbit, director of university galleries at Murray State University.
Nesbit said that the only amusing thing about Umanets’ vandalism was that the “artists” behind it thought they had cooked up a new idea.
“It’s all been said by people who are better written and don’t have typos in their manifesto,” he said.
My hope is that this episode will call attention to an artist who deserves it — Rothko — rather than a couple of pranksters who can’t produce anything worthwhile on their own.
And my prediction is that any talk of Yellowism as a real art movement will fade as soon as the mural is restored.
Call Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641.