SEOUL – The couple saw paintbrushes and cans of paint in front of a paint-splattered canvas at a gallery in a Seoul shopping mall. So they added a few brushstrokes, assuming it was a participatory mural.
Not quite: the painting was a finished work by an American artist whose abstract aesthetic riffs on street art. The piece is worth more than $ 400,000, according to the organizers of the exhibition that featured the painting.
Now it is difficult to say where the artist’s work ends and where the vandalism begins. “Graffiti graffiti,” a local newspaper headline said last week.
Either way, the piece “Untitled” by John Andrew Perello, the graffiti artist known as JonOne, is now a magnet for selfies. And on social media, South Koreans are debating what vandalism illustrates about art, authorship and authenticity.
The work is on display with cans of paint, brushes and shoes the artist used when working on it, one of the exhibition’s organizers, Kang Wook, said in an interview. He added: “There were guidelines and a notice, but the couple didn’t pay attention.”
Some social media users echoed Mr. Kang’s reasoning. Others say the sign is confusing and the couple shouldn’t be blamed.
A few suggest that the incident itself was a contemporary art form, or that the couple’s abstract brushstrokes – three dark green spots covering an area of about 35 by 11 inches – enhanced the room.
The debate is notable in part because the crime was unintentional and the painting can be restored, said Ken Kim, an art restoration expert in Seoul who saw the work vandalized.
The painting is part of “Street Noise,” an exhibition that opened at Lotte World Mall in Seoul in February and features around 130 works of art from an international group of more than a dozen graffiti artists. Mr. Kang said mall staff noticed on March 28 that the painting had been vandalized and identified the couple by checking security footage.
The couple were arrested but released after police determined the vandalism was accidental, local media reported. Mr. Kang said the couple told police they believed the work was open to public participation.
The couple have not been identified and could not be reached for comment.
The artist, JonOne, said in an interview on Wednesday that he was disappointed and angry that his work had been “downgraded”, although some people said the publicity could work in his favor.
“Art must be religious,” he said. “You don’t paint on a church.”
JonOne said the vandalism of his job in Seoul reminded him of growing up in New York City and a feeling his talent was not appreciated.
As a teenager, he signed his graffiti with the tag “JonOne”. His style then became more abstract, although he continued to use graffiti lettering as the basis of his work. Now 57 years old and living in Paris, he has described his aesthetic as “abstract expressionist graffiti,” a nod to Jackson Pollock and other American artists who redefined modern painting in the years that followed. followed World War II.
Julien Kolly, a Zurich-based gallery owner specializing in graffiti art and who has exhibited JonOne’s paintings over the years, said they often elicit strong reactions from viewers.
“Some are full of praise and others think a child could do better,” he said. “Of course, I am in the first category.”
Mr Kolly wondered why the couple who had vandalized ‘Untitled’ in Seoul thought they could ‘intervene’ in a work of art hanging in a gallery – but also didn’t think they intended to ‘ destroy”.
“I can understand that people may have thought that they could, at the very least, do better than the artist by participating in this work,” he added.
Mr. Kang said a decision on whether to restore “Untitled” will be made before the exhibition ends on June 13. The restoration could cost around $ 9,000, he added, and the insurance company could find the couple partially responsible for the cost.
“But we are worried,” he added, “because many comments say the work should not be restored and remain as is.”