AMSTERDAM. The rising tide of art vandalism has perpetrators variously slashing, spray-painting, acid-bathing, and vomiting on treasures throughout the world. Fundamentally different from the looting of archaeological sites and monuments, these acts tend to have a radical political or deranged aesthetic motivation. The latest incidents at the Stedelijk Museum included a Russian “performance artist” spray-painting a green “$” on a white-on-gray Suprematist painting by Malevich, and a Dutch self-described “artist” repeatedly slashing Cathedra (1951), a large nearly monochrome canvas by Barnett Newman. The latter was particularly troubling because it was the second desecration by Gerard Jan van Bladeren, 42, who had slashed Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? III (1967), another of the Stedelijk’s Newmans in 1986. Insisting that by restoring the painting the Stedelijk had “damaged” his own handiwork, the crackpot sent faxes requesting permission to re-slash his earlier victim. Plus he went terrorist, threatening to damage other works in the Stedelijk and elsewhere if he was not permitted to do so. “We don’t take him very seriously. We think he’s loony,” says a spokesperson for the museum.
Sane or not, van Bladeren’s blade is costing the Stedelijk more than bad publicity. They spent $300,000 to restore Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? III, and when they denounced conservator Daniel Goldreyer of New York for purportedly using a paint roller, he sued and won a settlement of an additional DFL 170,000. [I DO NOT HAVE THE CONVERSIONS] Who knows how much it will cost to repair Cathedra, a work valued at $12 million? Perhaps not surprisingly the incidents have precipitated a debate about whether the government should spend fortunes restoring modern art — particularly minimalist abstractions — and whether the laws against art vandalism are severe enough. Van Bladeren served only five months for his earlier offense and faces a maximum of two years and $15,000 for his more recent antics. Dutch Parliament is considering instating stiffer penalties, but in the meantime the museum would like recidivists like van Bladeren barred from museums for life.
Jason Edward Kaufman
This article appeared in Art and Antiques, Feb. 1998, p. 20.