Pablo Picasso's "Woman in a Red Armchair" has become the latest masterwork to be defaced while hanging on a museum wall. Last Wednesday at around 3 p.m., a man approached the 1929 canvas, which hangs in Houston's de Menil Collection, and stenciled a bull and the word "Conquista" on the surface of the gray and red cubist portrait.
The incident was caught on video by a bystander, who then posted the snippet on YouTube, where it was picked up today by the local news outlet KHOU. The video, shot from behind, captures the suspect with his hands raised in front of the painting. There is a loud cracking sound as he rips the stencil off the surface of the canvas and quickly walks away. Soon after, we hear the civilian filmmaker exclaim, "What the fuck?"
A police investigation is underway to track down the vandal, de Menil representative Gretchen Sammons told ARTINFO this afternoon. She said the museum also has its own security footage of the incident, which occurred while a guard's back was turned. According to the YouTube posting, the graffiti was the work of Houston-based, Mexican-American artist Uriel Landeros and was done "in dedication to the art beast Pablo Picasso." (Two days ago, after the attack, Landeros was featured in a group exhibition at Summer Street Studios in Houston.)
"The painting was rushed to the conservation studio before the paint was even dry," Sammons said. "We're hopeful it will be restored." She added that this is the first instance of vandalism at the august institution. Lieutenant Rocaba, who is in charge of the case at the Houston Police Department told ARTINFO he has a suspect in mind, and is working to track him down. "We have no idea why he did what he did at this point," he said. The painting was acquired by collectors John and Dominique de Menil in 1956.
In an interview with a local TV station, the bystander seemed oddly supportive of the perpetrator. "I thought it was pretty cool how he walked up to the painting without fear, spray painted it and walked off," he said. After the incident, he followed the vandal out of the museum to ask why he did it; the assailant told him he was simply an up-and-coming artist who wanted to honor the Cubist master in his own way. (And though you might think it would be difficult to pursue a career in art after such a crime, remember that artist Tony Shafrazi spray-painted "Guernica" at MoMA in 1974 and then went on to a successful career in art dealing.)
Such brazen vandalism inside the hallowed halls of museums is rare, though recent attacks on artworks from seemingly unhinged perpetrators have targeted Poussin and Gaugaun. But while those incidents seemed to stem from the vandals's anger at the nudity in the paintings, this particular attack, in keeping with its apparent artistic roots, seems to deal more directly with Picasso's own themes of the bullfight and the conquest.
To see the footage of Pablo Picasso's "Woman in a Red Armchair" being vandalized in the de Menil museum, click on the video below: