Black on Maroon, Rothko, 1958
Vandalism to paintings in museums is not new. Sometimes these acts have payoffs because these vandals receive free publicity. The publicity works. The media and art world know these vandal artists and sometimes put their artwork in the spotlight. For instance, Tony Shafrazi, the defacer of Picasso's Guernica launched his career from publicity achieved after his vandalism.
Why pick a Rothko to mark on? The vandal states "I believe that if someone restores the (Rothko) piece and removed my signature the sale of the piece would be lower but after a few years the value will go higher because of what I did."
Image of the vandalized Rothko's Black on Maroon at the Tate
Posted on Twitter by Tim Wright who witnessed the vandalism
This series of paintings at the Tate were a new direction for Rothko, who researched European art for a commission for a posh New York building in 1959. He started insisting that he was not an abstractionist, and that such a description was as inaccurate as labeling him a great colorist. His interest was:
only in expressing basic human emotions — tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on. And the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions . . . The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationship, then you miss the point.