The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

The Official Student Newspaper of Tarleton State University since 1919

the JTAC

Art under attack

Exploring why people vandalize artwork

Visitors gasped in astonishment as soup covered the “Mona Lisa.” If it were not for the glass casing that safely shielded Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece, the painting would have been detrimentally damaged. 

Onlookers watched as the two vandalists ducked under the protective barrier. As the women, revealed to be part of the environmental group Riposte Alimentaire (“Food Response”), addressed the crowd, staff members at the Louvre began to intervene. 

This attack on the “Mona Lisa” is not the painting’s first, and is yet another example on a long list of people vandalizing art. Art vandalism has been happening for centuries, in all different forms and fashions. Which begs the question, what motivates people to vandalize cherished artwork?
Throughout history, people have taken to defacing art for a multitude of motives. Oftentimes, two or more motives are evident in a perpetrator’s reasoning for defacing art. 

In 2018, 37-year-old Igor Podporin entered the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow soon before the gallery closed. 

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“After approaching one of the most famous works of the gallery, Ilya Repin’s painting of Ivan the Terrible murdering his son, Podporin grabbed a metal post and broke a protective glass with it. Glass shards left three tears on the canvas, requiring years of restoration,” The Collector detailed. 

Originally, Podporin claimed that the reason for attacking the image was because it went against his religious beliefs. Later, he changed his story and protested that he was drunk and overwhelmed and that he was forced by the painting itself to attack.

Four years before Podporin, Maximo Caminero, a local artist in Miami, paid a visit to the Pérez Art Museum. While there, Caminero picked up one of Ai Weiwei’s multi-color-dipped vases. Upon being asked by security to return the vase to its spot, Caminero threw it to the ground, shattering the piece. 

“Caminero told the New York Times that he ‘did it for all the local artists in Miami that have never been shown in museums here.’ He added that the museums ‘have spent so many millions now on international artists,’” Art Net stated. 

One century before Caminero’s incriminating actions, a woman named Mary Richardson attacked Diego Velazquez’s painting, “Rokeby Venus.” Acting out in protest against the incarceration of British suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst, Richardson took a meat cleaver to the piece. 

“By attacking a work made by Velázquez, Richardson claimed she wanted to destroy the most beautiful woman in mythological history in retaliation for destroying Pankhurst who she saw as the most beautiful character in modern history,” The Collector detailed. 

“In 1972, Lazslo Toth, an Australian geologist of Hungarian origins, attacked Michelangelo’s sculpture “Pieta” with a hammer, breaking Virgin Mary’s arm and nose and chipping one of her eyelids. Aged 33 at the time, Toth developed an obsessive idea that he was the resurrected Jesus Christ.” 

Days before the attack, Toth made attempts to get in contact with the Pope, demanding that he be recognized as the Messiah. After sending pieces of the sculpture scattered across the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica, Toth was apprehended. He was never sentenced to jail for his crime. Instead, he was committed to a psychiatric hospital, before living the rest of his life in isolation. 

To answer the initial question, what motivates people to vandalize art; there is no specific answer. Some people do it because of their personal beliefs or religious ties, while others find a purpose fueled by political grounds. Others may have no specific reason, or a mental illness may lead them to target a piece of history. 

“In each case, however, the base motive remains the same: to raise a ruckus by disturbing the look or reputation of art people know all too well,” Art News concluded. 

To learn more information about acts of art vandalism, go to or

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Lainey Vollmer
Lainey Vollmer, Staff Writer

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