Saturday, October 27, 2012

Art vandals: hanging's too good for them

The conflation of criminal acts and celebrity culture is becoming ever more prominent and it's hard to know what to ascribe it to. Historically, art fakers and forgers have been drawn predominantly from the ranks of failed painters and sculptors whose own work was never good enough to win them entry into the legitimate market. Following the defacing of a Mark Rothko painting at Tate Modern, we can add graffiti artists to the rogues gallery.

The most recent slippage between crime and celebrity comes with the decision by a Houston, Texas "art dealer" to stage an exhibition of paintings (to call them works of art would be to bastardize the English language as well as aesthetics) by Uriel Landeros, who spray-painted a Picasso canvas at the Menil Gallery in June this year.

According to CBC News, Landeros has been "on the lam" since being charged with the descration of the Picasso work, but this hasn't stopped James Perez (above left), owner of the Cueto James Gallery in Houson, from offering Landeros the oxygen of publicity.

One glance at the execrable objects hanging behind Perez in the image above is enough to confirm Landeros as laughably devoid of talent and Perez as an attention-seeking opportunist. To add insult to the injury felt by thousands of Menil Gallery visitors who value their local culture, Perez has said of Landeros's act of vandalism, "It's just taking something and making it your own. I like what Uriel did. That it makes it yours," at a stroke cementing his own philistine credentials.

Landeros did not make the Picasso his own. The restorers will restore it (they have almost completed that process), Picasso's fame will endure and Landeros and his crapulous Houston cheerleader will descend back into the swamp of oblivion where they belong.

Perez is confident that his gallery will be packed to the rafters on the opening night. Pigs will feed at the trough whatever the farmer fills it with.

Who's to blame? Such egregious acts of vandalism may be partly motivated by a common misunderstanding of a number of seminal moments in recent art history, a few of which include: Marcel Duchamp for changing the rules of engagement as to what constitutes art; Robert Rauschenberg for erasing a De Kooning drawing and thereby claiming authorship of it; Andy Warhol for predicting that "everybody will be world famous for fifteen minutes"; Richard Prince, Sherry Levine and the 'Pictures' generation for photographing other artists' photographs; Banksy for smuggling his stencilled works into the Tate in the belief that they deserved to be there; the media for giving broadcast time to convicted art forgers like John Myatt; law enforcement agencies for failing to hand down proper sentences to criminal vandals; speculators and hedge fund managers for turning the art market into a casino. All of us for treating museums and galleries as places of worship.

But the real issue here is to do with ethics, or the lack thereof. Perez's failure to do the right thing and give Landeros a wide berth will only encourage others to take the spray-can, the knife, and the felt-pen to our greatest works of art.

According to a Texas district attorney, Landeros faces between two and ten years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

Why not make that the full ten years and $100,000?

Image above: Houston Chronicle/ Melissa Phillip/Associated Press

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