Gauguin painting’s attacker isn’t the only crazy one

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The woman who attacked a Paul Gauguin painting with her fists at Washington’s National Gallery of Art on Friday might be mentally ill. According to a published report, the woman told police that the painting of two bare-breasted Tahitian women is ‘very homosexual. I was trying to remove it. I think it should be burned ... I am from the American CIA and I have a radio in my head. I am going to kill you.’

If she is deranged, one wonders: What is the excuse for the Washington City Paper, which Tuesday published a story with the headline ‘Three Works at the National Gallery We’d Have Defaced Before Gauguin’?


The alternative tabloid proceeded to ‘recommend’ three works in the museum’s collection more suitable for trashing than the Post-Impressionist picture, which is on loan from New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art to a popular traveling exhibition. One of the three writers even explains, ‘Actually, I’ve been defacing a work of art very subtly since September last year,’ claiming to regularly add colored pencil marks to a Sol LeWitt wall drawing at the museum.

The story appears in the paper’s ArtsDesk blog, not on a comedy page, where standards would probably be higher.

The authors do bend over backwards to say they ‘recoiled at the news’ of the original attack, and in a lame attempt at wit repeat variations of ‘don’t try this at [your] home [museum].’ But I suspect the shiver that ran down the spines of every museum curator around the globe when the Gauguin story first appeared, fearing possible copycats, will get a new jolt from what amounts to water-cooler tomfoolery now posted by art critics on the Internet.

Initial examination of the Gauguin painting showed no damage, according to conservators at the National Gallery, although study continues. (The painting was behind Plexiglass.) That’s a good thing.

So was the quick action of the museum guard who intervened in what can only be described as a sad event, both for the art and for the plainly troubled attacker. Washington City Paper is an alternative newspaper, but who knew that the alternative to sad was dumb?



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-- Christopher Knight