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'Bored' gallery guard draws eyes on faceless figures in an avant-garde painting worth $1 million

'His motives are still unknown but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity,' said the exhibition's curator.

'Bored' gallery guard draws eyes on faceless figures in an avant-garde painting worth $1 million
Cover Image Source: Twitter/CNN

Editor's note: This article was originally published on February 11, 2022. It has since been updated.

A Russian art gallery guard has been charged with vandalism after he allegedly drew eyes with a ballpoint pen on an avant-garde painting from the 1930s. According to The Guardian, Soviet artist Anna Leporskaya's "Three Figures" was on display as part of an abstract art exhibition at the Boris Yeltsin Center in Ekaterinburg, Russia, when the "bored" security guard made his own additions to the piece. The defacement was first reported by the Art Newspaper Russia, which revealed that the vandalism was noticed on the evening of December 7, 2021, by two visitors who raised the alarm with a gallery employee.


After the visitors alerted staff of "small, crudely rendered eyes scribbled on two of the painting's figures in ballpoint pen," it was removed from the exhibition and returned for restoration to the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow which had loaned the valuable artwork. Although Alexander Drozdov, the executive director of the Yeltsin Center, did not identify the security guard connected to the incident, he said that the 60-year-old worked for a private security company and has been fired since the discovery of the defacement. Meanwhile, Anna Reshetkina—the exhibition's curator—revealed that the painting was damaged "with a Yeltsin Centre-branded pen" and that the security guard did so on his first day at work.


"His motives are still unknown but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity," she said. "The ink has slightly penetrated into the paint layer since the titanium white used to paint the faces is not covered with author's varnish, as is often the case in abstract painting of that time," Ivan Petrov wrote in the Art Newspaper. "Fortunately, the vandal drew with a pen without strong pressure, and therefore the relief of the strokes as a whole was not disturbed. The left figure also had a small crumble of the paint layer up to the underlying layer on the face."


'Three Figures,' which features three abstract and previously eyeless figures, was reportedly painted between 1932 and 1934. Before being sent to the exhibition, the Soviet-era painting was insured by AlfaStrakhovanie for 74.9 million roubles (approximately $1.3 million). Tretyakov estimates that the restoration will cost 250,000 roubles (about $3,400) which will be paid by the private insurance company. All remaining works in the "The World as Non-Objectivity" exhibition—which will be open till February 20, 2022—have been placed behind protective screens.


Although the vandalism was first reported to police on December 20, 2021, according to BBC, the Ministry of internal affairs initially declined to initiate a criminal investigation as the damage was deemed "insignificant." However, police announced they had opened an investigation into the incident after the Ministry of Culture later complained to the prosecutor general's office about the lack of action. If found guilty, the security guard accused of defacing the painting could face a fine and up to three months in prison. "Following the incident with Anna Leporskaya's painting in the Yeltsin Center, security protocols were reviewed and protective screens were installed over all the paintings of the exhibition in the Art Gallery. We hope that such incidents with works of art on our territory will be excluded in the future," the Yeltsin Center said in a statement on January 14, 2022.


Leporskaya, whose work is displayed in various museums across the country, became famous for designing buildings and exhibitions in addition to her highly acclaimed paintings. She was reportedly a student of Kazimir Malevich, the Russian artist who developed an avant-garde movement that took the art world by storm in the 1920s. The Yeltsin Center was named after Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin, who was in power from 1991 to 1999. Yeltsin oversaw the country's transition in the aftermath of the Soviet Union's fall and had to deal with various economic and political crises during his presidency. Since he was widely unpopular in Russia by the time he left office, the museum being named after him has divided public opinion.

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