Yellowism Considered As A Puke FetishPosted: November 2, 2012
Tony Shafrazi is the owner of the Shafrazi Art Gallery in New York, who deals artwork by artists such as Francis Bacon, Keith Haring, and David LaChapelle. At the age of 13, his father and stepmother took Shafrazi to England and left him to study there. He first went to a vicarage in Bilston, then to boarding school and later Hammersmith College of Art & Building. He attended the Royal College of Art from 1963 to 1967 before going to New York in 1969.
Mary Raleigh Richardson (1889 – November 7, 1961) was a Canadian suffragette active in the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, an arsonist and later the head of the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Sir Oswald Mosley.
On February 28, 1974, Shafrazi spray-painted Picasso’s painting Guernica, which hung in the Museum of Modern Art, with the words “KILL LIES ALL”. The paint was easily removed as the painting was heavily varnished. It is believed that Shafrazi was protesting the announcement, the day before, of the release on bail of U.S. lieutenant William Calley. Calley, then under house arrest following his conviction, in 1971, for his part in the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, he had initially been sentenced to life imprisonment. Although his appeal was overturned in June, he was finally released from U.S. Army custody later in the year after having received a limited pardon from Richard Nixon. Shafrazi was a member of the Art Workers’ Coalition, which in 1970 had staged a protest at MoMA by unfurling a copy of the famous My Lai protest poster And babies in front of the Guernica painting, which itself depicts the tragedies of war and the suffering it inflicts upon innocent civilians.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the suffragette movement, frustrated by a failure to achieve parliamentary reforms, began adopting increasingly militant tactics. In particular, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by the charismatic Emmeline Pankhurst, frequently endorsed the use of property destruction to bring attention to the issue of women’s suffrage. Richardson was a devoted supporter of Pankhurst and a member of the WSPU.
In regard to his 1974 vandalism of the Guernica painting, Shafrazi gave the following statement to Art in America in December 1980: “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.”
Richardson was at the Epsom races on Derby Day, 4th June 1913, when Emily Davison jumped in front of the King’s horse. Emily Davison died in Epsom Cottage Hospital and Mary Richardson was chased and beaten by an angry mob but was given refuge in Epsom Downs station by a railway porter. She committed a number of acts of arson, smashed windows at the Home Office and bombed a railway station. She was arrested nine times, receiving prison terms totaling more than three years. Richardson’s most famous act of defiance occurred on March 10, 1914 when she entered the National Gallery in London and slashed the Rokeby Venus with a chopper she smuggled into the gallery.
In an odd turn of events, only a few years later Shafrazi would be the art adviser to the Shah of Iran and Kamran Diba, then director of the Teheran Museum of Contemporary Art. Shafrazi went to about 15 of the top New York dealers at the time — including Leo Castelli, Ileana Sonnabend, Paula Cooper, John Weber, and Irving Blum — and helped assemble a 20th-century art collection on the Shah’s behalf within four years. As he did so his power expanded into the art market. In Tehran, he built a museum to house this collection. The museum Shafrazi had constructed epitomized the Shah’s modern Iranian state, the collection was therefore essentially Western: from Impressionism to Abstract Expressionism, Pop and Conceptual Art, including works by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Willem De Kooning.
Richardson wrote a brief statement explaining her actions to the WSPU which was immediately printed by the press: “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history. Justice is an element of beauty as much as colour and outline on canvas. Mrs Pankhurst seeks to procure justice for womanhood, and for this she is being slowly murdered by a Government of Iscariot politicians. If there is an outcry against my deed, let every one remember that such an outcry is an hypocrisy so long as they allow the destruction of Mrs Pankhurst and other beautiful living women, and that until the public cease to countenance human destruction the stones cast against me for the destruction of this picture are each an evidence against them of artistic as well as moral and political humbug and hypocrisy.”
In 1978, Shafrazi opened his own commercial gallery in a small Tehran shopfront. The gallery was only open briefly, closing because of conditions in the country leading up to the 1979 Revolution. In 1979, he opened his first New York gallery, and within a few years he had made his reputation handling talents like Donald Baechler and then-hot graffiti artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Kenny Scharf. In 1999, the Francis Bacon estate chose Shafrazi as its United States representative.
Richardson like a number of middle- and upper-class suffragettes turned to fascism. She became the head of the Women’s section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF). Two other prominent suffragette leaders to gain high office in the BUF were Norah Elam and Commandant Mary Allen. Richardson published her autobiography, Laugh a Defiance, in 1953. She died at her flat in Hastings on November 7, 1961.
On 7 October 2012 Rothko’s Black on Maroon, at the Tate Modern gallery in London, was defaced with writing in black paint. The perpetrator told the BBC “I’m not a vandal” and compared himself with surrealist artist Marcel Duchamp, adding “Art allows us to take what someone’s done and put a new message on it.” It was later revealed that the man was Polish man Włodzimierz Umaniec AKA Vladimir Umanets. His addition to the painting had included his name and the number 12, followed by the sentence: “a potential piece of yellowism”. On 8 October Umanets was arrested on suspicion of causing criminal damage and he appeared at Camberwell Green Magistrates Court on 10 October 2012, where he was remanded in custody until 16 October. Let’s hope Umanets doesn’t follow the same reactionary trajectory as the two politically motivated art vandals dealt with here… but anyone who thinks art works are important enough to target specific paintings for vandalism (and thus valorises the very thing they are supposedly attacking) is unlikely to adhere to progressive views for very long. Art is dead! Burn the museums baby!