By Mike Collett-White
LONDON, Oct 8 (Reuters) - A man who claims to have defaced amajor painting by Mark Rothko over the weekend in London said onMonday that Marcel Duchamp, the French artist most famous forhis 1917 urinal that shocked the art establishment, would be"happy" at what he had done.
Police are investigating the incident on Sunday at TateModern gallery on the River Thames, where witnesses saw a manapproach Rothko's 1958 canvas "Black on Maroon" and inscribe itwith black ink in the lower right-hand corner.
Although the ink had run down the canvas, a photographposted by a witness on the Twitter website showed the words:"VLADIMIR UMANETS '12, A POTENTIAL PIECE OF YELLOWISM."
A man answering a mobile phone number provided via a link onthe website of the "Yellowism" movement() answered to the name of VladimirUmanets and told Reuters he had carried out the attack.
"I'm aware they (the police) will come at some point andarrest me," he said, speaking in an eastern European accent.
"It was an artistic statement, but it was more about havingthe opportunity to speak about galleries and art," he added,explaining his actions.
"Marcel Duchamp, when he made 'readymades' (art), everyonewas shocked. I don't want to be considered a vandal or someonewho wants to destroy something, especially such a valuablepainting.
"It's more about to change perception of things, ofspectators. It's more about an idea."
Duchamp's iconoclastic urinal, entitled "Fountain" andfeaturing the words "R.Mutt", is considered one of the mostinfluential works of the 20th century by challenging people'sunderstanding of what constitutes art.
"What I do believe is the most creative thing left to do incontemporary art today is to abandon this (art) and MarcelDuchamp was trying to do this," Umanets said.
"I'm not saying I'm another Marcel Duchamp. I'm not atag-maker. I'm doing my own thing ... After Duchamp, nothingactually happened. I definitely believe that Marcel Duchampwould be really happy."
In its online manifesto, "Yellowism" is described as neitherart nor anti-art and that the "context for works of art isalready art".
The Metropolitan Police said the suspect was a white manbelieved to be in his late-20s. No arrest has been made.
A Tate Modern spokeswoman said the painting would berepaired by an in-house team of experts. Asked whether thegallery, one of the world's most popular, was consideringbeefing up its security, she replied in a statement:
"Tate has strong security systems in place includingphysical barriers, security officers in the galleries, alarmsand CCTV."
In the case of the Rothkos, which are hanging on Level 3 ofthe converted power station, the barrier is a low wire.
The damaged work was one of the "Seagram Murals" theRussian-American artist was commissioned to paint in the 1950sfor the new Four Seasons restaurant in New York.
Several ended up in the Tate collection after they weregiven as gifts before Rothko took his life, and Tate describesthe famous series of soft-edged rectangles as "iconic".
No one knows why the artist abandoned the bright, intensecolors of his earlier canvases and painted in dark maroons, redsand black, but one theory is that he said he wanted to "ruin theappetite of every son of a bitch who ever eats in that room."
Rothko is considered one of the 20th century's mostimportant artists, and in May, his "Orange, Red, Yellow" soldfor $86.9 million, a new auction record for the artist, atChristie's in New York.
Tim Wright, who witnessed Sunday's attack, wrote on Twitter:"This guy calmly walked up, took out a marker pen and tagged it.Surreal ... Very bizarre, he sat there for a while then justwent for it and made a quick exit."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White)
((Mike.Collett-White@thomsonreuters.com)(tel: +44 7990 560229))
Keywords: ARTS BRITAIN/ROTHKO