Above: An interview with Barend la Grange, the 58-year-old South African Internet businessman who vandalized Brett Murray’s “The Spear” (2010) on May 22, 2012. 

According to La Grange, his actions were driven by pro-government, anti-racist sentiment: “No one deserves to be exposed like that - that’s the number one thing. Of course the artist is free to make that expression, how he feels. But when it became a racist issue… Racist issues to me are more important than damaging property. We can’t allow freedom of expression to be an excuse for letting [racial] conflict to begin again. The artist who painted it is a white person. The owners of the gallery are white people. So I felt it was the right thing for a white African-speaking person to cover it.”

La Grange also notes that he’d visited the gallery on a prior occasion and spoke directly with the gallery owners, saying he wanted to create a copy of the painting and apply X’s to the duplicate rather than the original: ”I told the gallery owners I was going to do this… but I didn’t want to do it on the original, because I respect property.” He says he then gave the gallery owners his phone number and blog URL so they could contact him - but he did not hear back. “Nobody contacted me. So I thought, ‘Well, if they don’t want to respect my freedom of expression, then I’m going to do the real thing.’” 

(Side note: The interviewer, Iman Rappetti, was on-site at the time of the attack, confronting la Grange and capturing his act on video.)

Christopher Schreck