A bizarre act of vandalism committed recently at the Menil Collection in Houston still has museum officials scratching their heads, as the man who spray-painted over a 1929 Picasso painting fled the scene and is still on the loose.
The man, dressed in a dark suit and sunglasses, used a stencil and a can of spray paint to mark the painting with the word "conquista" (Spanish for conquest) and an image of a bull entangled with a bullfighter.
According to the Houston Chronicle ’s account, museum security in the Menil’s Surrealism galleries discovered the damage almost immediately after it happened last Wednesday afternoon and rushed it to their on-site conservatory to repair the masterpiece. Trouble was, the man who defiled the painting was already gone.
An unidentified witness who captured the incident with a smartphone video told KPRC that he followed the vandal, asking him why he took a stencil to Picasso’s “Woman in a Red Armchair.” The witness noted that the artist claimed he sought to honor Picasso with his graffiti.
And the same day, the video was posted on YouTube with this caption: “Young Mexican-American artist URIEL LANDEROS, paints a stencil of a bullfighter killing a bull over an original 1929 Picasso painting in Houston TX,” leading some to speculate that the filmer and the “artist” were working as a team. (At the end of the video, a docent, still unaware that the painting had been defaced, can be heard telling the man filming that "you can't take pictures here.")
The Houston Police hope to charge the culprit, whomever he is, with criminal mischief.
Menil Director Josef Helfenstein said in a statement that the damage done “threatened the public's ability to enjoy a wonderful painting and violated the bonds of trust that enable museums to share great works with their visitors."
Fortunately, the painting, which has been hanging at the Menil since it opened in 1987, has “an excellent prognosis," Menil communications director Vance Muse told the Chronicle. But museum communications assistant Gretchen Sammons told the TM Daily Post that the museum administration is not sure when the painting’s repairs will be finished or when “Woman in a Red Armchair” will be re-displayed.
Lennie Bennett, an art critic for the Tampa Bay Times , denounced the man’s behavior, calling it “shocking” and “insulting.” “What 'honor' is there in an artist defacing a work another artist deemed complete when he finished it?” she wondered. “Even more insulting is that he didn't do anything original. He used a stencil.”
One commenter at Glasstire, a blog specializing in Texas visual art, was less than impressed by the Picasso vandal’s execution. Identifying himself as Damon Smith, the reader called the art destruction “really tired.”
Smith pointed out, “Picassos have been vandalized before – be creative, try a Ruscha or a Leger.”