By: Arthur Anders

Chromophobia: Kill Lies

 art vandalism across the contemporary art

February 28, 1974, Tony Shafrazi spray-paints
in red letters the words ‘Kill Lies All’ on Guernica. (Fig. 2) 2003, Guernica
is covered behind a blue curtain as Colin Powell prepares his UN address. 1986,
Gerard Jan van Bladeren slashes Who's
Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III. 
1987, Daniel Goldreyer murders Who's
Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III. (Fig. 1) 
Bladeren and Shafrazi would
both be classified as vandals, while Goldreyer is classified as an art
conservator and the UN as a peacekeeper. All four classifications are wrong.
Instead, these actions should be understood through the concept that art itself
living. Thus, these individuals ought to be understood not simply as vandals,
but as interactors with a fluid alive body, that of the painting. 

Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera speaks to the way non-western
peoples, specifically “Tribal Cultures” (Anzaldúa 68) interact with art. In The
Path of the Red and Black Ink
, Anzaldúa applies a direct critique of
Western-European art culture’s objectification of art; its sacrifice of art.
Western art aesthetics view art as inert, an object to be secured and viewed by
the upper classes. Indigenous tribal treats art as alive and in turn belonging
to the commons, it is of the people. This methodology of engaging with art
provides a far more egalitarian way of art observation in comparison with
Western methods. To embrace fluid art dynamics is to reject Western conceptions
of art as static, making art vandalism unfitting to describe these four events.

The term
Vandal is derived from the name of a fifth-century East Germanic tribe, a
rather marked ethnocultural association. More importantly, art vandalism is
perhaps cited as one of the oldest forms of vandalism. In Art Vandalism, or
How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Art Attacks
, writing for
Burnaway Magazine Katherine Concepcion traces different historical examples of
art vandalism, drawing a common link between the majority of them: politics.
Each action functions as a kind of aesthetic attack against whatever
established ideal the work exudes. These attacks can even strengthen or add
value to works, such as Cai Yuan and Jian Jun Xi’s performance art piece on
Tracy Emin’s My Bed, an art piece that modeled a disheveled bed. Yuan and Xi
bounced on the bed comically interacting with the art. (Fig. 3) Following their
performance, the bed had to be restored, the irony being that Yuan and Xi had
already created a perfect messy bed. Ironically, in restoring the bed to its
previous state, it became neat and ordered. In attempting to conform to Western
art aesthetics by holding the bed in stasis, the work loses its foundational

February 28, 1974, Tony
Shafrazi, artist, and art dealer for the likes of Basquiat and Warhol, adapts a
line from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake and does the unthinkable.  Shafrazi challenges the aesthetic rules of
MoMa. He described his actions as being an act of protest against the Vietnam
War and how Guernica had been robbed of its political relevance and
potential. Picasso had only ever loaned the painting to MoMA, intending for it
to return to Spain following the end of the Franco regime. Guernica was
practically stolen. In 1974, amidst the mass protests of the Vietnam War,
President Nixon pardoned the only US soldier on trial for the My Lai massacre,
in which US soldiers killed and raped 500 Vietnamese men, women, and children.
Shafrazi sought to revive the painting, to free it from its confinement within
the museum, an imprisonment that had destroyed its anti-war symbolism. He
wanted to breathe new life into the painting by drawing attention to it.
Shafrazi saw Guernica as a readymade, much like many of Marcel Duchamp’s works,
upon which he could create new meaning. Following his spray painting, Shafrazi
dropped his can and waited for security to detain him. While on trial he was
asked if he would do it again, to which he replied no “Because
it had been done.” The red spray paint was easily removed, but despite this
Shafrazi was characterized as a vandal. However, vandalism generally is defined
as a malicious act of property destruction, an unsatisfactory label for
Shafrazi’s actions. His act was in no way malicious, it was defined in
opposition to a malicious and brutal war. Furthermore, defining and viewing art
as property, as a static object to be protected and guarded falls directly in
line with western conceptions of art. What Shafrazi did was interact and
interface with a living fluid body, not the defacing of a still object. He
would go on to bring graffiti into the fold of the art world.

2003, Colin Powell lies to the UN against the backdrop of an
innocuous blue curtain, an inoffensive, unprovocative, and a rather drab piece
of cloth designed to obfuscate critical thinking. Behind that blue curtain hung
a print of Guernica, deliberately concealed to create a palatable backdrop that
would allow Powell to sell the Iraq War. The full extent of Powell’s speech is
beyond the scope of this paper; however, its gravity and impact are tremendous.
At that moment Guernica was given enormous power, it was feared.
Accidentally, it was restored and revitalized similarly to Shafrazi’s spray
painting. Guernica was once again relevant, its concealment openly
televised and well known. The curtain was of course easily removed leaving no
trace, similar to Shafrazi’s work. However, this action was not labeled as
vandalism, despite functioning in the same way, but containing malice. Fearing
its symbolic weight, the UN concealed Guernica, an obvious malicious attempt to
undermine its messaging and promote unjustifiable violence. Shafrazi and the UN
are not vandals, but interactors with the fluid body that is Guernica. Their
actions are complex, ideological, and emotionally charged. Shafrazi and the UN
are the producers of artistic ready-mades, each containing a political and
emotional statement, amidst a complex context. 

1986, Gerard
Jan van Bladeren, a psychiatric patient and ardent fan of magical realism,
takes a knife to Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III. (Fig.
4) Bladeren
’s actions diverge from Shafrazi’s in that they
are associated with a reactionary and antisemitic assault on abstract art.
Newman’s works had long been targeted by antisemites, who felt that Newman was
part of a coordinated assault on Western culture via abstract art. The
far-right has long upheld traditionalist notions of art, the Nazi party labeled
Abstract art as degenerate and Jewish. Naturally, an ideology built upon
preserving the privileged class gravitates towards classical art, with its
emphasis on formal schooled qualities, rather than universal emotive ideas.
Newman, of Jewish-Polish Origin, was a pioneer of color-field painting and in
his series Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue broke color down into
its most essential components, color. Bladeren later stated “When I destroyed [Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow,
and Blue III.]
I was nature, reacting against
vicious ideologies…” His actions emanate from a fascistic ideal of nature, one
that fraudulently involves the will of nature against “vicious ideologies” that
stem from a degenerate other. Bladeren murdered Newman’s work, placing a
message of reactionary antisemitism upon it. 

Daniel Goldreyer restores Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow, and Blue III. He
attempts to undo Bladeren’s s assault on the work, attempts to undo what has been
lost. Goldreyer utterly fails. Despite being given 400 million dollars, he
cannot figure out the techniques behind Newman’s work. Goldreyer instead
decides to take house paint and a paint roller and break the fundamental rule
of art restoration, to never put on something that can’t be taken off. He
murders the painting again, ensuring that Bladeren’s actions can never and will
never be undone. 

Works Cited

99pi. “The Many Deaths
of a Painting.” 99% Invisible, 1 Jan. 1970,    

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands
= La Frontera : The New Mestiza.
 San Francisco,       Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1987.

Concepcion, Katherine. “Art Vandalism, or
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Art Attacks.” Burnaway,
Burnaway, 2 Feb. 2012,

Dowd, Maureen. “Colin Powell and
'Guernica'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 23 Oct. 2021, 

Duve, Thierry de. “Who's Afraid of Red,
Yellow, and Blue?” The Online Edition of Artforum International Magazine,
Artforum, 1 Sept. 1983,

Freeman, Nate. “How Tony Shafrazi Invented
a Market for Graffiti Art.” Artsy, 7 Sept. 2018,

Images, PA. “Yuan Cai Bounces on the
Controversial Exhibit My Bed by Tracey Emin...” Getty Images,

“Protagonistas - Tony Shafrazi.” Repensar

Timberlake, Oliver. Who’s Afraid of Red,
Yellow, and Blue: The Far Right and Modern Art

“Who's Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III
[Barnett Newman].” Sartle, 15 Nov. 2022,