British police on Tuesday charged a 26-year-old Polish national with vandalizing a priceless Mark Rothko work at the Tate Modern museum, an act that caused a minor stir in the U.K. art world. S
cotland Yard said in a statement that Wlodzimierz Umaniec would appear at south London Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court in south London court on Wednesday charged with one count of "criminal damage in excess of £5,000 pounds (about $8,000 US)."
Umaniec, who also went by the name Vladimir Umanets, was arrested after patrons discovered a scrawl across the bottom of a Rothko mural on Sunday.
Scotland Yard launched its investigation after the mural, one of Rothko's Seagram series, was defaced Sunday with what appears to be the words "Vladimir" and "a potential piece of yellowism."
Umanets, who identifies himself as the co-founder an artistic movement he calls "Yellowism," told journalists he was behind the graffiti. According to an online manifesto, Yellowism is an artistic movement run by Umanets and another person, Marcin Lodyga.
'I didn't decrease the value, I didn't destroy this picture, I put something new' —Vladimir Umanets
Earlier Monday Umanets told Britain's Press Association news agency that he wanted to draw people's attention to his movement, which he described as "an element of contemporary visual culture."
"The main difference between Yellowism and art is that in art you have got freedom of interpretation. In Yellowism you don't have freedom of interpretation, everything is about Yellowism, that's it," he said.
Umanets told Press Association he expected to be arrested, but said he believes his scrawl increased the painting's value.
"I believe what I am doing and I want people to start talking about this. It was like a platform," he said. "I didn't decrease the value, I didn't destroy this picture, I put something new."
Rothko, who died in 1970, is renowned for his large abstract paintings featuring bold blocks of colour.
The defaced painting was one of a series intended to decorate the Four Seasons restaurant in New York. Rothko changed his mind about the commission and gave the works to galleries, including the Tate.
The artist's children, Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko, said in a statement that they were "greatly troubled" by the incident, but confident the Tate would do everything it could to remedy the situation.
While the Tate Modern has said it does not have a price for the defaced piece, another Rothko piece — Orange, Red, Yellow — sold for almost $87 million US at auction in New York.
This is not the first time an artwork at Tate Modern has been interfered with. In 2000, two Chinese performance artists attempted to urinate on Marcel Duchamp's urinal sculpture Fountain.