Police are investigating a brazen act of vandalism in which a suspect spray-painted graffiti onto a Pablo Picasso canvas displayed at the Menil Collection in Houston.
The incident took place on June 13 at the Renzo Piano-designed museum, which houses the modern art collection of late collectors John and Dominique de Menil.
The vandalism was caught by a stunned museum-goer, who was filming Picasso's Woman in a Red Armchair with his cellphone camera when a man in a suit jacket and sunglasses strode up, held up a stencil against the work — one of nine Picassos at the Menil — and spray-painted in gold on the 1929 canvas.
The suspect left an image of a bull and the word "Conquista" (conquest or conquer in Spanish) on the Picasso.
The unnamed patron who filmed the act is heard on the video swearing in disbelief and again after rushing up to view the defaced painting close up. A museum security guard is heard on the video chiding him for filming the artwork.
In an interview with local TV station KPRC, the witness (who asked to remain anonymous) said he confronted the suspect before he fled and that the man identified himself as an up-and-coming Mexican-American artist.
Museum patrons interviewed by local media said they were shocked and appalled at the act of vandalism. According to chief conservator Brad Epley, repair work began on the canvas immediately after the incident.
On Tuesday, a museum spokesman said that the restoration work has been "going very well" and the damage appears to have been caught in time.
Police are reviewing the cellphone video as well as museum security footage. Officers have asked anyone who witnessed the incident to call police. No arrests have been made.
***Attention: Graphic language in video***