'18 months' to restore damaged Rothko painting

When Vladimir Umanets vandalised a significant work of art by the abstract expressionist Mark Rothko at the Tate Modern last month, it was expected that it would be restored back to its former glory in no time at all.
However, the damage wrecked by Mr Umanets – who had ‘tagged’ Rothko’s Black on Maroon (1958) – is much more substantial than previously thought. Conservationists have speculated that it could take up to 18 months to repair the masterpiece.
The vandal had defaced the painting in the name of his art movement Yellowism, which was unheard of in the art world. In tagging Rothko’s work, Mr Umanets explained he had transformed it beyond anyone’s understanding and thus elevated it to another artistic dimension. It has been universally dismissed as folly.
He has, regardless, left an indelible mark, achieving the kind of notoriety that will seriously impact on his own ability to live and work as a respectable artist. Initially it was presumed that it was a superficial smear, one that could technically be wiped away.
However, after closer examination by the gallery’s conservation team, it was discovered, as the BBC’s art editor Will Gompertz put it, “to be a deep wound”. The ink used by him has seeped into the very fabric of the canvas.
“Because of the way in which Rothko worked, which was building his paintings layer after layer after layer in a meticulous fashion, the conservators are going to have to remove the paint layer after layer and then rebuild it,” he said on BBC Radio 4.
“What looked like a funny or amusing jape to some when this was done is actually significant damage to a really major work of art, which is going to take a national institution a great deal of time and money to put right.”
Mr Gompertz touches on an interesting point. Not only were layers a key feature of his approach to composition, he also tended to mix various ingredients in his paint, like eggs, resin and glue.
Trying to duplicate that is, in itself, an arduous and complicated task, made all the more challenging by the fact that restorers have to also take into account that the work of art has aged over time.
“Tate will be setting up a committee including an independent expert to advise on the conservation process of this work,” a spokesperson for the gallery said.
Mr Umanets, 26, pleaded guilty to criminal damage to property valued at over £5,000. He has yet to be sentenced.
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