Intentionalism and the Arts

Rothko, defacement and authorship

Posted by Vittorio Pelosi on October 22, 2012 at 2:50 PM

Vladimir Umanets, founder of the art movement Yellowism 'defaced' one ofRothko's Seagram murals earlier this month. Mr Umanets compared himself withDuchamp and said that "art allows us to take what someone's done and put anew message on it."

His act has mostly provoked anger in the art community- perhaps rightly so.However, on what do we base our consternation?

Contemporary art theory espouses ideas grounded in the Death Theses of Foucaultand Barthes. In essence a work's author has no bearing on its meaning.Moreover, Gadamer following Heidegger, spoke of the 'effective history of thework'- that a work has constantly changing meanings over different times, andgenerations etc. Effectively, as Barthes put it- we have a birth of the viewer-meaning resides here.

From this foundation, where do art critics base their anger? The work is not'owned' by Rothko.On what basis do say when a work is finished? It is no longerthe artist's decision. Perhaps Umanets was completing it.  If art criticswere upset solely on the basis of vandalism and ownership- in the same leagueas graffitti on a privtae building's wall, then their response would beappropriate. However, the uproar is based on the work being somethingontologically different- it's a "Rothko."

How will restorers clean it? By matching it to how Rothko originally leftit.

In practice the artist is alive and well and his or her intentions domatter.


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Reply Jess Rose
4:44 PM on January 2, 2013 
Impossible to restore it to how Rothko left it, in cultural memory. Physically cleaned, but the traces of Umanets' action remain.
Reply Alex Nodopaka
3:18 PM on May 13, 2013 
Galaxies are born and destroyed every day, so let's not make a big deal of one lost Rothko artwork. There can be another 1000 Rothko duplicated... now pay attention I didn't say create a Rothko!