Art Vandals Background

Kill Lies All, 1996, by Felix Gmelin
After Pablo Picasso (1937) and Tony Shafrazi (1974) Oil on canvas, 195 x 295 cm


'For me, an image is the sum of destructions'

pablo picasso

An enraged man sprayed the words 'Kill Lies All' on Picasso's painting Guernica in the Museum of Modern Art yesterday. He was seized immediately and the red-paint lettering was removed from the masterpiece, leaving no damage. The vandal, who shouted that he was an artist, was identified as Tony Shafrazi. As stunned visitors looked on helplessly in the third-ßoor gallery where the huge antiwar painting hangs, the man drew a an of spray paint from his pocket and scrawled the three words in foot-high letters across the gray, black and white masterwork.
'We couldn't move; we were all stunned,' said Gregory Losapio, 16 years old, who was in the museum with his Scarsdale High School class. 'A man started to move toward the guy when he turned around, cursed and said: I'm an artist,' the student said. Mr. Shafrazi was taken to the West 54th Street station house and was charged with criminal mischief. 'I'm an artist and I wanted to tell the truth,' he said.
Originally the museum hoped to keep the vandalism secret, because, according to Elisabeth Shaw, the museum's press spokesman: 'Museums are always afraid that this kind of publicity may encourage other acts of vandalism.'

Source: The New York Times, March 1, 1974

Tony Shafrazi is now a well-known art dealer in New York. In December 1980, he said in an interview in Art in America: 'I wanted to bring the art absolutely up to date, to retrieve it from art history and give it life. Maybe that's why the Guernica action remains so difficult to deal with. I tried to trespass beyond that invisible barrier that no one is allowed to cross; I wanted to dwell within the act of the painting's creation, get involved with the making of the work, put my hand within it and by that act encourage the individual viewer to challenge it, deal with it and thus see it in its dynamic raw state as it was being made, not as a piece of history.'
In an art historical context, Shafrazi's conduct is regarded as vandalism. But how would Picasso have viewed the matterhe who himself painted over a Modigliani? Picasso's remarks are more in tune with Shafrazi's ideas than with what museums stand for: 'Ultimately, what is important about a picture is the legend it has created, not whether it is preserved or not,' and 'Everything I have done has been for thepresent, in the hope that it will forever remain in the present.' By turning Picasso's Guernica into a masterpiece, the museum helps to make the picture historic, thereby rendering it invisible in the present.

felix gmelin