Woman in a Red Armchair is a 1929 painting by Picasso of a woman in a red chair. Unless you're really good at analyzing cubism, you'll need to know the title of this painting if you want to know that the triangles are in fact feminine.
In 1956 the painting became part of the private collection of two wealthy Europeans who moved to America after WWII. The Menils settled in Texas. Twenty-five years ago, the widow Dominique de Menil created a museum in Houston, Texas which would not charge admission. This particular Picasso is one of ten in the Menil Collection. As far as paintings go, it's on the small size but by no means miniature. Its estimated value is in the tens of millions of US dollars.
One day earlier this summer this painting became more important when a masked man approached this painting and placed a stencil in between the eyes of the canvas and proceeded to apply gold spray paint. In ten seconds, the image of a bull and the word conquista could be seen more clearly than the woman or her armchair. The masked man exited the scene.
A cell phone recorded the incident. The video was later posted to Youtube. Soon thereafter the video appeared on the FaceBook page of one Uriel Landeros, who identified himself as the masked man. Supposedly the cell phone belongs to a random person who did not know Landeros beforehand.
No surveillance video from the museum has been released. The museum does not expect to make any changes in security.
Landeros is a 22 year old working artist. News reports have alternately described him as a "street artist" (due to the fact that stencils and spray paint are tools of what is widely considered to be vandalism) and "conceptual" (given the performative aspect to his act). Judging from his blog it seems safe to say that he paints.
Video of the incident may be seen here.
On the video, the person holding the cell phone may be heard whispering what the fuck several times during and after the event. At the end of the clip, the cautious voice of a security guard may be heard stating "You know you're not allowed to take pictures here". Unbowed, the man with the camera says he knows and continues filming. The security guard repeats his statement, shouting. The footage ends. News reports would later embed the video without edits.
In March of this year, Landeros made the (at the time) enigmatic tweet "one day pablo one day". As to why the 13th of June was chosen as that day remains a mystery.
Since then, Landeros has managed to disappear. There are rumors that he defected to Mexico. He was charged with Criminal Mischief and Felony Graffiti, both third degree felonies.
What is a painter? A collector who wants to gather a collection by painting himself the pictures he likes in the works of others.
Most amusingly, this was not the first time that a Picasso was spray painted: Tony Shafrazi wrote the message KILL LIES ALL on Guernica in 1974. The spray paint was quickly removed but Shafrazi's reputation was set. A few years later he would become a highly successful art dealer, with galleries in Tehran and New York.
Earlier this summer Landeros authorized the use of video of the incident in the promotion of an art show—effectively claiming ownership of the work by a "random stranger". It remains to be seen whether Uriel Landeros will do as well as Shfrazi.
So far he has been largely vilified as being self-serving, ridiculed for being ignorant and (perhaps worst of all) largely ignored for his act. Many were left scratching their heads. A disproportionate majority of Youtube viewers of aforementioned cell phone video clicked the "thumbs down" to indicate their dislike; most did not indicate any preference one way or the other. Even in the art world, few consider that Picasso would have relished the attention. Indeed, Picasso is said to have once painted over a work by Modigliani.
A Google image search for "Woman in a red armchair" brings up more altered images of the painting than originals. Picasso also did a Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, which is recognizably human. This other work was the subject of more recent attention due to a print of it causing a disturbance in the Edinburgh Airport, on account of a boob.
Landeros is originally from Edinburg, Texas.
His activity has since been sporadic. He has twice now in the past month communicated with a Houston-based blog syndicate, touting rhetoric fresh from Occupy. He claims a love for museums but hates that museums "steal art" from indigenous cultures. It is worth noting that the museum Landeros chose to target, the Menil, actively strives towards cultural stewardship. Earlier this year they returned a series of frescoes (which they purchased in the 1980s with the intent to restore) to the church in Cyprus where they were stolen almost a thousand years ago. Even so, the Menil does contain a number of art from indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa—it is likely that those peoples were not invited to any gallery openings. My guess is that Landeros chose the Menil (a free museum) because he couldn't pay the admission to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts or maybe he had predetermined that the Picassos at the other museums in town did not have sufficient white space for his tag.
After the first blog interview, Landeros released a statement via Youtube en Espanol and in English. In these videos, he appears shirtless and deathly serious. His hands are not visible. The text he recited was sent out as a press release; many media outlets chose not to run it.
Supposedly, there are US Marshals looking for him. You may report any information as to the activity of Landeros to (+001) 713-308-0900. There's an offer of five grand for information leading to his arrest. FaceBook must not want the cash.
A transcription of the statement Landeros posted to Youtube appears below:
I dedicate this to everybody out there who has suffered any kind of injustice, whether from your family, your religion or from your government. And to Pablo Picasso, the intellectual artist who loved bullfighting and understood that, at the end of the dance, somebody had to die. And on this day, it was his turn — June 13, 2012.
I did this to turn heads, to raise awareness to the world, to make this a better place for everyone to live in. My intention was never to destroy Pablo's painting or to insult the Menil. If I would have wanted to destroy the painting, I would have ripped it with a knife or burnt it. But that was never my intention. I'm sorry for insulting anyone who has misunderstood my message, but I'm a good enough alchemist to know that the professionals in the Menil could easily restore the piece with a little bit of Windex.
My intentions are to give a voice to the public, to all those who go unheard of. Unfortunately, our society has become nothing but a corrupt, war-making, murdering, raping society. And all the religious and political leaders who will not fight against this problem are to blame. In fact, everybody who doesn't fight against this problem is only feeding this chaotic fire.
We can all do something to be better. And all those who are part of the problem should truly be persecuted and punished.
Why don't we begin to create a better society, a better world, a healthier one? Why is this government wasting society's money in a never-ending religious drug war, war that only kills our brothers and sisters, war that leaves families without their loved ones? Instead, focus on the real problem, the murders, the rapists, the thieves, the corrupt politicians in this war.
These are the real issues. That's why the world is so fucked up. Don't look for me. Look for the real criminals.
In the end, we all want the same thing — a safe society, a society where all the kids can run around and play safely in the street. But in order for this to work, everyone needs to stop being scared and to stand up for what is right. We cannot let fear control our society.
Why does the one percent control the 99 percent? It is time for some real change, ladies and gentlemen, some real change. This is the true symbolism behind my activist movement.
All headings are quotes by Pablo Picasso.
Uriel Landeros turned himself into the authorities in Houston on January 8, 2013. He released the following statement: "I really don't give a (expletive) about the 15 minutes of fame
. If anything, I made that painting more famous than what it is."