Interview With the Yellowist:
Why Rothko Got Tagged
and You’re Next

10.10.12 Marina Galperina

It took all night to flag down Marcin Lodyga in Berlin, while his partner in Yellowism was being held in custody in London for calmly walking up to one of Tate’s precious Rothko’s and, with a black marker, writing “Vladimir Umanets ’12, A Potential Piece of Yellowism” on the canvas. What happened next was the strangest interview of my life.

By the end, I was in a Yellowist Chamber, hijacking the Yellow vibes of their power trip.

“Just don’t call us vandals or artists,” Marcin warned. After half an hour of prodding 1/2 of the “anti-movement’s” PR department, I’ve become a damn Yellowist scholar. I’d place it somewhere between Nihilism and Bokonism and I know Marcin would disagree. That’s ok. Earlier that night a Bloomberg journalist almost compared me to a Nazi sympathizer and a murderer-lover for not condemning the Yellowists, just for even being interested in why someone with such an audaciously simple manifesto would deface something so important and expensive.

Marcin had no idea that Vlad took on the Rothko until he was already arrested: “He didn’t inform me about the action, but I wasn’t so surprised. Vladimir is a very radical man.” Today, Vlad plead not guilty to criminal damages. Both are insisting that Vladimir did not vandalize, damage or destroy the painting. He transformed it into something else.

“Like Duchamp who took objects from reality and turned them into art, we can go a step farther and take objects from art and put them into the third context. They are not works of art anymore. They become pieces of Yellowism. Art already exists. Yellowism is a new context.”

You follow? Transmutation. Clay stops being clay when you make it into a sculpture? Wine at Eucharist becomes the Blood of Christ? A pig becomes bacon? That stuff.

Writing on a $80 million dollar painting isn’t the same as signing a urinal with “R. Mutt.” Hence, the criminal case and hoopla. Marcin giddily offers to split Vlad’s jail sentence, if it comes down to it. “I’ll do one of his years!”

“He didn’t do it for his fame. He did this for the idea of Yellowism, to show people that Yellowism exists.”

Let me summarize the next twenty minutes of our conversation for you: Yellowism is the pure expression of the color yellow. Turning anything into an object of Yellowism by putting it into “a nomadic Yellowist Chamber” — which is any damn actual room they choose to call “a Yellowist chamber” — makes the object Yellowist, yellow. Everything else about it — its shape, form, price, cultural context — becomes flattened. It’s all just yellow. It liberates it of meaning. It can even magically erase the Holocaust!

See, a few months ago, the Yellowists had an exhibition in London in a “Yellowist Chamber” with three former pieces of art. Two of them were works of Damien Hirst which they actually purchased first before vandalizing yellowing it. The third was Miroslaw Balka’s Holocaust-themed video piece B which they made yellow without permission.

“We take this work rich in meaning and we flatten it and now the work recorded in Aushwitz is the color yellow only. We’re not pro-Nazi! We just took the work and changed the context.”

What the fuck, you say? Observe this oak tree. This is a piece of art in the Tate Modern collection along with the ill-fated Rothko. It is conceptual artist’s Michael Craig Martin’s An Oak Tree. “He decided that the glass of water is literally An Oak Tree,” Marcin says. “This is a bit similar. We are changing the substance of the object into pure expression of the yellow color.”

Alright, they’re beginning to make sense, except for…

“I don’t like the color yellow,” Marcin says. “Vlad doesn’t like the color yellow either.”

Yellow is just something they defined after an epiphany. Then, they spent months “writing a manifesto” and “drawing diagrams” in Cairo in 2010.

The simplicity, self-importance and straight up lulz-trollage of these gents is fucking mind-boggling. Then again, they did vandalize transform a Rothko, ridding it of “baggage” and “dignifying” it as a “potential piece of Yellowism.” Despite all the lofty conceptual art footnotes, Marcin insists they’re unique. Here’s a little play-by-play to illustrate why I felt like giving our Skype chat window a hardy punch.

I prod, “Do you take hallucinogenic drugs?”

“No. We don’t do drugs. Vladimir doesn’t even drink,” he says.

I reach, “Is Yellowism like Zen? Everything becomes one?” 

“No,” he says. “Yellow is Yellow. Zen is Zen. Ok. Maybe it’s Zen. But if it’s Zen, for us it’s Yellowism.”

“Are you Nihilists?”

“No, we are Yellowists,” he says. “Nihilism is Nihilism. Yellowism is Yellowism, with no inspirations from outside, completely our thing even if you see some connections with some other ideas from the past… We are not crazy. We just know what’s going on around.”

“What’s going on?”

“You know, there’s a sky. People have iPhones. The Internet is existing. People are screaming,” he laughs. “We know. We see.”

“What do you want?” I plead.

“To make ‘Yellowism’ exist. Like ‘art’ exists. We want this context to be recognized as real. We want to do it physically, not just online.”

I’m thinking of world domination. I ask, “Do you want the whole planet, the whole human race to become Yellowist?”

“That is but a vision,” he sighs.

“So you’re going to keep…”

“That was just one accident,” Marcin interrupts. “This is not the strategy of the Yellowists. I’m sure even Vladimir won’t do it again because there’s no reason to do it again. I’d like to sign a bottle of wine… Anything can be a potential piece of Yellowism. I can sign a pretty girl and put her into the Yellowist Chamber, ha-ha… Vladimir did a small scandal but only to show the power of the context and that the context exists. It’s very difficult in the contemporary art world to say something, to make people listen, even if they listen they don’t understand.”

And just when I start to understand, off we go…

“The human mind is not ready for it,” Marcin says. “This is anti-human perception. But we can see it. We are very serious about it… One day we will die and Yellowism will still exist. Maybe after 100 years they will all need it. It’s too new. This is why people are angry with it.”

And holy shit are people angry.

Hey, I’m sorry that I wrote about Yellowism, everyone. I’m sorry that I enjoy the artist Istvan Kantor who vandalized museums with his own blood in the name of Neonism; Eva and Franco Mattes for “stealing art”; Alexander Brener for tagging a Malevich with a dollar sign; Voina for their Giant Galactic Space Dick bridge graffiti. I’m sorry, because as the Bloomberg journalist — who once covered my Gallery Girls party with Paddy Johnson — personally schooled me, “The destruction or vandalism of art is like stealing, killing and betraying those you love — you just don’t do it.”

“It’s within a certain tradition. It exists,” I defensively grumbled. “Yes, and gas chambers also existed… I am disappointed because this is about values. I would never have thought ours were so different,” she said, promptly unfriending me. But her argument is invalid because YELLOW!

“I like Rothko,” Marcin says.

“Me too.”

And Vonnegut would have loved the Yellowists.