The blind faces of the work three figures (1932-1934), by the avant-garde artist Anna Lepórskaya (1900-1982), woke up last December 8 with eyes drawn with a ballpoint pen on them. The vandal turned out to be a security guard on his first day of work at the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Center in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg, where the painting was temporarily displayed, organizers have confirmed. Despite the striking of the event, the incident took a month to come to light (January 14) and another month (February 9) was needed to find out who the author was. The work may be restored “without further consequences.”
“The work was inspected the next day by a restorer from the Moscow State Tretyakov Gallery, owner of the work, sent back to the capital. The painting is being restored and the damage, according to the expert, can be removed, ”said the foundation of the former Russian president in January, when he acknowledged the event revealed by The Art Newspaper. According to the information to which that medium had access, the restoration costs would be around 250,000 rubles, just under 3,000 euros at the current devalued exchange rate, while his insurance amounted to 74.9 million rubles, about 880,000 euros.
The restorer’s analysis indicated that the ink from the ballpoint pen penetrated slightly into the layer of paint because the white used by the author was not varnished, something common in this style of abstract painting. The aggressor did not exert great pressure on the canvas, so he did not leave relief. The work had been loaned by the State Tretyakov Gallery, which has a large number of paintings by the same artist. The identity of the guard has not been released.
The famous Moscow gallery has suffered similar incidents in recent years in its own museum. In May 2018, a drunken visitor cracked the painting with a security pole. Ivan the Terrible kills his son (1885), by the Russian realist painter Ilya Repin. This work had already been stabbed several times by another visitor a century earlier. And less than a year later, in January 2019, a thief dressed as an employee took the canvas in broad daylight. Ai Petri (1898-1908), by the landscape painter Arjip Kuindzhi, although the authorities managed to find the work and arrest the criminal. In addition, those months were fateful for the galleries of the Slavic country: in November 2018, two women damaged an engraving by Salvador Dalí and the frame of an etching by Francisco de Goya while taking photos at another exhibition in Yekaterinburg.
The painting three figures was part of the exhibition The world as non-objectivity. Birth of a new art. The Yeltsin Center justified its silence until January of this year with the fact that “it was conducting an internal investigation of the incident, cooperating with the security forces and confirming that the painting was insured.” According to his version, the institution filed a complaint with the police, “but the opening of a criminal case was denied due to the insignificant amount of damage caused to the work of art.”
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The organization then also tried to disassociate itself from the events. “We would like to pay attention that the staff of the BN Yeltsin Presidential Center was not involved,” he stressed in his statement. According to the investigation, the attacker of the work belonged to a private security company. “As a result of the incident with the Anna Lepórskaya painting, the security protocols have been reviewed and protective screens have been installed on all the paintings in the exhibition,” the institution stressed.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.