Mark Rothko painting is defaced at the Tate Modern in London

One of the Mark Rothko mural paintings that inspired John Logan’s play, “Red,” which had a recent acclaimed run at the Mark Taper Forum starring Alfred Molina as the artist, was vandalized Sunday in its gallery at the Tate Modern in London.

Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that the Tate issued a statement confirming that on Sunday afternoon, “a visitor defaced one of Rothko’s Seagram murals by applying a small area of black paint with a brush to the painting,” and that police were investigating.

The Guardian said that museum visitor Tim Wright, who posted a photograph of the vandalized mural on Twitter, said the man who defaced it with a scrawl that included the name “Vladimir” had sat quietly on a bench in front of the painting before the assault on its lower right corner. It was one of the paintings hanging in a special Rothko Room installed at the Tate earlier this year.


The Seagram Co. commissioned Rothko in 1958 to create murals for a room in the Four Seasons Restaurant in the Seagram building skyscraper in Manhattan, designed by architectural greats Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson.

The play “Red” envisions Rothko working on the project and discussing his art with an assistant. Rothko ultimately decided, according to different accounts, that the somber colors he produced for the Seagram commission weren’t suited to the planned setting, or that he didn’t want his work to be hung in a restaurant for privileged diners. He withheld the paintings and returned his commission money.

In 1969, Rothko agreed to give the Tate nine paintings from the Four Seasons series. The one that was defaced Sunday is part of a sequence entitled “Black on Maroon.” According to the museum’s website, word that Rothko had committed suicide in his studio arrived on the same day in 1970 that the paintings were being uncrated in London.

The Russian-born Rothko’s works are prized by collectors. His 1961 “Red, Orange, Yellow” sold for $86.9 million at a Christie’s auction in New York in May.

The online catalog of L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art lists 11 Rothko works in its collection. MOCA’s website was back in action and apparently problem-free on Sunday after Google warnings began appearing on Wednesday that it had “been reported as an attack page,” resulting in the site being automatically blocked by security settings unless visitors decided to press on despite the warning. The problem had continued at least into Thursday.


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