Above: Interview with Vladimir Umanets, who was convicted of defacing Mark Rothko’s “Black On Maroon” (1958) in October 2012 while the work was on view at the Tate Modern.

Umanets, a Russian-born artist, used a marker to write “Vladimir Umanets, A Potential Piece of Yellowism” on the bottom right corner of the canvas. Yellowism, he later explained, was an art movement he’d founded, which he described as “neither art, nor anti-art”; his inscription on the Rothko piece had been intended not as defacement, but as an artistic gesture.

“Some people think I’m crazy or a vandal, but my intention was not to destroy or decrease the value, or to go crazy. I am not a vandal,” he said.“I don’t need to be famous, I don’t want money, I don’t want fame, I’m not seeking seeking attention. I am a Yellowist. I believe what I am doing and I want people to start talking about this. It was like a platform. Maybe I would like to point people’s attention on what it’s all about - what is Yellowism? What is art?" 

Still, he admitted, he was pleased that his actions had made waves. “It’s good people are shocked about what happened. No one is realizing what actually happened; everyone is just posting that the piece has been damaged or destroyed or defaced. But I believe that after a few years they will start looking for it from the right angle. So that’s why I did it.”

He was arrested on-site and later sent to prison.

Christopher Schreck