Yellowism: Interview with the Rothko Vandals

Charlotte McManus

In the last two weeks a £50 million painting at the Tate Modern in London was defaced with black ink. A bold new artistic movement, or simply a publicity-seeking act of vandalism? We find out more with an exclusive interview with the artists calling themselves Yellowists.

Marcin Łodyga and Vladimir Umanets are the minds behind the emerging underground philosophy known as ‘Yellowism’. With a manifesto that states that Yellowism is ‘not art or anti-art’, the movement was relatively unknown until last week, when Vladimir was arrested for criminal damage, having defaced artist Mark Rothko’s famous mural Black on Maroon in the Tate Modern (pictured above, with Vladimir’s addition). Having (embarrassingly) hung the abstract expressionists’ work the wrong way round for years, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Tate Modern staff might be feeling somewhat cursed…

At the time of writing, Vladimir is still incarcerated, but we managed to track down co-founder Marcin to give us an exclusive interview on the stunt, as well as more on the pair’s decidedly unique ideas on art, exhibitions and the concept of reality.

What was your motivation behind defacing the Rothko painting?

First of all, Vladimir didn’t deface or destroy Mark Rothko’s painting; it was not an act of vandalism. He signed the Rothko painting, thus showing that this painting is a potential piece of Yellowism. Vladimir wanted to inform the contemporary world that Rothko’s painting can stop being a work of art, and can become a piece of Yellowism – if Rothko’s painting was placed in a Yellowistic chamber, then it wouldn’t be a work of art anymore, and would express yellow colour only; it would be a definition of yellow given in the form of Rothko’s painting.

Out of all the paintings you could have chosen, why Rothko?

The painting was Vladimir’s choice. He said that he would like to put the Rothko painting in the context of Yellowism, because Rothko expresses his emotions so well.  In the context of Yellowism, every feeling is a definition of yellow, every emotion expresses only the colour yellow – therefore, Rothko’s painting is perfect to be flattened in Yellowism. A chair or tube of Colgate or Damien Hirst’s shark or Rothko’s painting placed in the context of Yellowism all express exactly the same thing.

Was the Rothko act planned, or spontaneous? 
You’d have to ask Vladimir, he didn’t discuss this particular act at the Tate with me. Since we wrote theManifesto of Yellowism, we always talked about similar situations, hypothetically. Now it has happened.

How do you respond to the widespread criticism denouncing the stunt as nothing more than mindless vandalism?

People criticise us because they think that Vladimir wanted to destroy the painting, which is not true, and when we say that he is not a vandal, they are even angrier – and they reach the maximum of angriness when we explain that it was an act of Yellowism. Yellowism is based on the radical change of perception, and people are not ready for it yet – but there are also people who are trying to understand our point of view. The hate is slowly disappearing, being replaced by curiosity.

Vladimir has since been arrested. Would you say that you are setting out to deliberately provoke people (is Yellowism a guerrilla movement)?

We only want to provoke people to open their minds, and to start thinking about the new context of Yellowism. We will not repeat actions like the one in the Tate Modern. Vladimir said something very loud and clear; it is not necessary to do this again because the message to people was ‘sent’. We are not a guerrilla movement – we don’t attack art, this is not our strategy.

Was part of the incentive to raise awareness of Yellowism’s profile?

We don’t want to be famous and have our five minutes in the media – that is temporary. Yellowism has to be permanent.

And how did Yellowism first come about?

In Cairo, in 2010, we defined the new context of contemporary culture – Yellowism.  We were artists, but abandoned art to define the right context for our works (Yellowism), which were in the wrong context before (art). One of the main features of Yellowism is the lack of a creative element; Yellowism is not art.

In your manifesto, you claim that “All and everything is flattened to yellow” in Yellowism. Why choose yellow as the central idea?

The Manifesto of Yellowism is based on the vision of total flattening. It’s the field in which all and everything is flattened to yellow: the specific context in which all interpretations possible in the context of art are reduced to one. During the period of transition between art and Yellowism, we saved only the colour yellow.

Sum up your philosophy for us – what is it exactly that you’re setting out to do?

We want to set up the new context in culture, to ‘establish’ the new intellectual and physical field in which is neither art nor ‘ordinary’ reality. Yellowism can be everything that was already in art and will no longer be in art. It’s the context in which not only reality ceases to be reality, but art also ceases to be art.

Do you plan to recruit more people, outside just the two of you? How big do you want to take the movement?

As big as possible; now is the time for the expansion of Yellowism. We want to open Yellowistic chambers around the world.  For now, there is only me and Vladimir, but maybe one day the presence of Yellowism will be so strong that one will have a choice to either become an artist or a Yellowist. Actually, this alternative already exists. We need designers, architects, translators and editors to help us expand.

You talk about ‘Yellowistic chambers’ that exist independently of art galleries – and this has most recently been realised in your third exhibition, No One Lives Forever, at Hanbury Street’s Natalia Vodianova Yellowistic Chamber. So how does a Yellowist chamber differ to a conventional gallery space?

A Yellowistic chamber is a space reserved only for Yellowism – Yellowism can exist only in Yellowistic chambers, nowhere else. Art can be presented everywhere – in open public spaces, on the street, the desert, a bar, a hospital and in museums and galleries – but not Yellowism. Vladimir wrote on Rothko’s painting, “A potential piece of Yellowism” to show the possibility, because Rothko’s painting would become a piece of Yellowism only in a Yellowistic chamber.

In May, we exhibited three pieces of Yellowism in the Natalia Vodianova Yellowistic Chamber, taking works of art by Miroslaw Balka, Neville Brody and Damien Hirst, and transforming them into pieces of Yellowism. They didn’t know that we presented their work in the context of Yellowism; we didn’t ask them. The works of art lost all the meaning that they have in the context of art, and all the significance and richness of intellectual references.

What are your plans for Yellowism in the future?

We want to publish a book about Yellowism – I can only say that.



You can read more on Yellowism at the movement’s website

Originally published on Don’t Panic UK.