A guard who recently vandalized a 1930s painting on his first shift at a museum in Russia has been suspended for what a top museum official called “a stupid mistake.”
In December, the guard of Boris Yeltsin’s presidential center in Yekaterinburg, Russia, drew eyes with a ballpoint pen at two of the faceless subjects of “Three Figures”, which the artist Anna Leporskaya painted from 1932 to 1934. The painting, which was on loan to the center of a Moscow museum, was part of a temporary exhibition of avant-garde artworks.
The Yeltsin center, dedicated to Russia’s first elected president, made no mention of the vandalism at the time. But after a report of the incident by The Art Newspaper Russia last month attracted international attention, the center said in a statement that “an accident had occurred”.
In an interview with DailyExpertNews on Tuesday, Alexander Drozdov, the center’s executive director, identified the guard as Alexander Vasilyev and said he had been suspended during a police investigation into the vandalism. The guard is employed by a private security company and had worked his first shift at the museum.
“He made a stupid mistake,” said Mr Drozdov.
In an interview this month with E1, a Russian news outlet, Mr Vasilyev said he had been a “fool” for damaging the painting, which he said he thought was a “child’s drawing”. He also said teenage visitors to the museum had asked him to draw on the painting.
mr. Drozdov said “Three Figures” were valued at about 75 million rubles ($974,000) and that the damage, which was covered by insurance, would cost about 250,000 rubles ($3,300) to repair.
“To put it bluntly, it wasn’t massive damage,” said Mr. Drozdov. “It wasn’t dramatic. The man used his ballpoint pen.” The museum said it expected the pen markings could be removed without damaging the painting.
mr. Drozdov said security cameras had recorded what he called a “great performance” by Mr. Vasilyev, who used a souvenir pen from the center to draw on the painting. Then he told others he wasn’t feeling well and left.
Visitors noticed the damage shortly afterwards and reported this to the museum staff. The painting was then assessed by a restoration expert and returned to his home in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery.
The museum has since installed protective screens over his paintings, and Mr Drozdov said it was working with the security firm to improve the recruitment process.
“Thre Figures” is the latest artwork to take random damage. In 2018, one of Russia’s most famous paintings, “Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581,” by Ilya Repin, was badly damaged in a Moscow gallery after a man attacked it with a metal pole. And last year, a paint-spattered canvas worth more than $400,000 on display at a Seoul mall was vandalized by a couple who believed the work was a participatory mural.