No, You Can’t Punch a Yellowist in the Face and Call It
“Performance Art”

10.19.12 Marina Galperina

Since Vladimir Umanets wrote on a precious Rothko at the Tate, following the media fall-out has been a wild ride. There’s a lot of anger, and we appreciate all sides of these discussions immensely, given ANIMAL’s interests. But, uh, no. You can’t punch him in the face, sir. Let’s talk about this.

To refresh, the Yellowist aren’t “really” artists as one of them tried to explain to me in that epic interview. They’re philosopher trolls. By tagging the famous artwork, in an act of recklessness, aggressive disregard and inflated balls of grotesque proportions, they appropriated it as a piece of Yellowism and “flattened” all meaning and cultural weight into “the expression of the color yellow.” It’s not a piece of art anymore, it’s a transmuted “new” entity. It’s pure IRL LULZ.

That explanation is not going to fly in court, clearly, and it’s really too bad about the painting, but that’s why the kid’s on trial. He does not need your additional threats of violence, mkay? Take this one, from a Huffington Post contributor:

I know very little about art.. but… sitting in front of this painting… I experienced an emotional response that I cannot explain. As strong as watching Jonny Wilkinson strike that wonderful drop goal in 2003; marginally stronger than the last time I found a forgotten £20 note in my jacket pocket.

Ok. Let me restate that bit about how much we appreciate these discussions and think that everyone deserves their opinion, even if it’s strong enough to call to violence. Good. Keep ’em coming! Even if you’re not of “the art world,” especially if you’re not of “the art world.” But if you admit to not know much about art, perhaps Performance Art is a good place to start researching if you’re going to go there:

So Mr Umanets is not a Yellowist, but a vandal. Send him to jail, deport him, make an example of him. Better still, organise for everyone who, like me, was saddened by his actions, to line up and punch him in the face, one by one. Mr Umanets himself can set up a camera to film it, if he likes. Call it performance art. It might even be considered ‘Yellowist’.

No no no no, don’t do that! And again, thank you for your passionate response to the incident and that’s punchy writing, parampum, much punchier than the twenty other versions of this exact thing I’ve heard this week. Thanks for writing this, but…

Just like the Yellowists can’t go tagging things openly with their real names in public and not be arrested and scorned, you can’t just go around punching people in the face and… not be arrested and scorned.

Obviously, when it comes to art, it carries an immeasurable, metaphysical weight that cannot be levied by a prison sentence or a fine, so this vigilante urge for “higher” punishment is very understandable and, I think, overstated for dramatic effect, but it’s a serious threat, so we’ll take it seriously. It’s still Medieval, buddy, regardless of what the Yellowists did.

Satisfying your passionate desire for revenge on a specific human being is not the same as a quest for catharsis or fame or other reasons “legitimate” artists do their thing. So, no. You can’t punch him in the face and call it art, because you will punching him in the face because you want to punch him in the face, not because you want to make art.

Conversely, there are plenty of really terrible, pointless paintings that people are allowed to call “art,” and terrible art in general, but the intensity of this promised interaction raises the stakes here. You need a little more concept than wanting to call it art to get away with it, than wanting to hurt someone because they broke something you liked.

Just like you, sir, who wants to discourage anarchy of people suddenly not respecting the authority and cultural importance of major museums and going ape shit inside with markers and paint cans… I’ll take this moment to discourage vigilante face-punching and the misuse of the term “performance art” to qualify and excuse any action as art, especially when you’re clearly outlining your intention to get away with vigilante face-punching and excuse it as art.

You’re doing it wrong. Right? Mr. Dale Bilson, let’s talk about this. Just please don’t punch anyone just yet.

What was I saying again? Performance art is hard to explain. Tune in next time when I explain to you that Marina Abramović and Ulay slapping each other in the face is art and what you and your girlfriend did last night isn’t! I think.