Picture this: You’ve got to cross the Neva River, but you don’t make it to the Liteiny Bridge on time. As the drawbridge rises to the sky, so does an erect phallus that’s painted on it. Plain as the nose on your face and the junk in your shorts, thanks to the lamps lighting up the street-dong for the whole world to see. We’re not usually into graffiti this crude, but a 224-foot-long wiener rising toward the heavens is about as good as it gets. And thanks to river traffic, the penis was stuck there all night, until the bridge was lowered at 5 a.m. My name’s Moxie…
Welcome to the third installment of our infrequent series: We Can’t Have Nice Things. This time, we’re looking at people who, if you capitalize their name, means a 5th century Germanic person who ravaged Gaul and Spain, settled in Africa, and sacked Rome, but with a lowercase V it’s someone who through ignorance or malice ruins something not theirs — vandals. Their motives range from greed, to anger, to unchecked egomania. Some get caught, while others get away to screw things up somewhere else. If researching this script taught me anything, it’s that nothing is sacred to them, literally. Native American monuments and rock art dot the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. They are considered sacred by the local Native American tribes as their birthplace and are registered Historic Places. In 2010, park rangers were summoned after someone reported people firing paintball guns in the area. They found paint splattered across the rock art. Park rangers had to remove hundreds of paintball shells from the canyon and found 38 areas with rock art that had been shot up. The culprit was a 20-year-old man, who didn’t stop to realize his crack-shot aim would cost him more than a year in jail as well as a nearly $10,000 fine and 50 hours of community service after pleading guilty to multiple charges.
If you’re thinking of dipping your toes into the wild word of graffiti art, do not turn the country’s most treasured national parks into your experimental canvases. And if you are brazen enough to make such a bizarre misjudgment, do not, we repeat, do not, brag about said endeavors on social media. A New York-based woman, known originally only by the Instagram handle Creepyting later identified as Casey Nocket, got in a geyser’s worth of hot water after journeying through ten of the most breathtaking sites of natural beauty in the country — including Yosemite, Crater Lake, Sequoia, Joshua Tree, Zion, and Bryce National Parks — and vandalizing them with acrylic paint. Naturally, she then posted pictures of the indiscretions on Instagram and Tumblr, sharing her illegal activities with the entire internet. In a particularly cringeworthy comment exchange, @Creepytings admits to using acrylic paint (not chalk) for her work. Another commenter responds with a scathing “:(“ to which @Creepytings replies “I know, I’m a bad person.” “It’s art, not vandalism. I am an artist.” Oh, you’re something alright. The 23-year-old San Diego woman was sentenced last week to two years probation and 200 hours of community service after pleading guilty. As part of her punishment, she is additionally banned from stepping foot on any national park land during her probation — that’s 84 million acres spread out in all 50 states.
Our state and federal parks are full of natural wonders, like forests, waterfalls, and rock formations, which are centuries if not millenia old. Take for instance the rocks that had stood in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah. They’d only been there for 170 millions years; they might fall over at any second and hurt someone! At least that was the excuse given by a duo of Boy Scout leaders, or rather former Scout leaders. The men filmed themselves knocking the formation over and cheering, and naturally posted it online, where it soon became the focus of national outrage. Even though they claimed the toppling was for the greater good, both men still plead guilty to criminial mischief. This kept them out of jail, but they had to pay ay $925 in court costs, $1,500 for the cost of the investigation and an undetermined amount to erect signs around the park warning visitors not to vandalize the rock formations. Their tale gets even more salacious. One of the men shown literally moving a boulder was out of work at the time after a car accident, and had sued the father of the teenager driving the other car just weeks before the trip to Goblin Valley, claiming he was in debilitating pain. People like that are why people with legitimate claims have such a hard time.
China is very sensitive about its international reputation. That explains why a single act of tourist vandalism, committed by a Chinese citizen while overseas, created a social-media uproar in 2013. The controversy began when a Chinese traveler logged on to the social media site Weibo and posted a snapshot of a 3,500-year-old Luxor Temple carving of a man whose torso had been scratched over with the phrase, “Ding Jinhao was here.” The photo quickly went viral, prompting online outrage, and in less than 24 hours netizens had publicly identified “Ding Jinhao” as a 15-year-old middle school student from Nanjing. Amid online declarations of national disgrace and social-media death threats (why is that our response to everything?), Ding’s family came forward to express their regrets in a local newspaper. “We want to apologize to the Egyptian people and to people who have paid attention to this case across China,” Ding’s mother stated, adding that the boy had “cried all night” out of shame over the incident.
Ding should be ashamed, but he’s hardly the first. This defacement of a priceless antiquity is only one example of a tourist tradition that is nearly as old as tourism itself. In Travel in the Ancient World, historian Lionel Casson notes that evidence of tourist vandalism dates back at least to 2000 B.C.E., a high official under Mentuhotep III, chiseled his name and accomplishments into the sandstone of Wadi Hammamat, near the Red Sea. Elsewhere, at Giza, scratchings on a temple wall, dated to 1244 B.C., read: “Hadnakhte, scribe of the treasury, came to make an excursion and amuse himself on the west of the Memphis, together with his brother, Panakhti.” Scribes, perhaps unsurprisingly, accounted for the bulk of such graffiti, and Casson notes that their inscriptions follow a fairly standard formula: “Scribe So-and-So … of the clever fingers came to see the temple of the blessed King So-and-So.” Most such messages were painted onto monuments with a brush or scratched into the stone with a sharp point.
The Golden Age of graffiti on Egypt’s tourist-circuit monuments coincides with the heyday of the imperial Romans and underwent a modern renaissance in the 19th century, as Industrial Age European travelers fanned out across what came to be known as the “Near East,” leaving thousands of inscriptions in their wake. So common was the practice of scratching one’s name into Egyptian monuments that French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, having no time to visit the pyramids during an 1806 Egypt sojourn, sent an emissary out to engrave his name for him. “One has to fulfill all the little obligations of a pious traveler,” he noted in his journal. Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni is as much remembered for his prolific graffiti as he is for his contributions to Egyptology, with and the large “Belzoni” inscription he left on the walls of the Ramesseum. The French novelist Gustave Flaubert was not impressed by the graffiti he found during an 1850 journey through Egypt. “One is irritated by the number of imbeciles’ names written everywhere,” he wrote, noting that the name and address of a certain Parisian wallpaper manufacturer had been written, in black letters, at the top of the Great Pyramid. “In Alexandria,” he added, “a certain Thompson, of Sunderland, has inscribed his name in letters 6 feet high on Pompey’s Pillar. You can read it from a quarter of a mile away. ”
It’s apparently a fairly common thing for tourists to carve their initials into the 2,000-year-old Colosseum. In the most recent publicized incident, which happened in 2015, two US tourists used a coin to carve their initials into the ancient stadium and then took a selfie, because of course they took a selfie. The tourists, both women in their twenties, were almost immediately arrested. Two Brazilian men were arrested after sustaining injuries in an attempt to climb over a Colosseum gate in the early hours of the morning. One suffered a fractured hip bone. That same day, two spray-painted words were found in the Colosseum, although authorities didn’t immediately link the two crimes. Numerous signs placed around the Colosseum, in Italian and in English, warned that damaging the stadium in any way was illegal, but situations like these may have increased in recent years because of cuts to staff members. It doesn’t help that many tourists view the crumbling Colosseum in a more dismissive light than other, better-preserved monuments.
The greatest mystery of Easter Island may not be the original purpose of the statues, but rather why did a Finnish man think that it was a good idea to rip off one of the giant heads’ earlobes? The Finn in question, Marko Kulju, was visiting the Rapa Nui National Park when he decided to get himself a souvenir from a 13-foot moai statue. Local authorities were understandably displeased. “Fortunately, this type of thing does not happen every day,” said a government official, “but it does happen, and it is almost impossible to control because on Easter Island there are sites of great archaeological value everywhere and the park guards cannot prevent all such incidents.”
Just as there is usually a silver lining if you look for it, some graffiti acts like a record. Archaeological traces of the Vikings have been found in many of the places where they travelled to and settled on. Such traces include runestones, burials (including grave goods), and even ships. One of the lesser known traces left by the Vikings is perhaps their graffiti. One of the places where the Vikings ended up was Constantinople, or Istanbul for those not familiar with their They Might be Giants, the capital of the Byzantine Empire and was one of the greatest cities in Europe at that time. During the second half of the 10th century AD, a prince of the Kievan Rus’, Vladimir, was forced to flee to Scandinavia as a result of a civil war with his brothers. Once there, Vladimir assembled an army of Norse warriors, known as Varangians, returned home, and defeated his enemies. But Vladimir could not afford to pay his mercenaries. The Varangians did not seem eager to return to Scandinavia either, and demanded to be shown the way to Miklagard, the name used by the Norse for Constantinople. Around the same time, the Byzantine Emperor, Basill II, was requesting military aid for the purposes of putting down some revolts, and defending his throne. Thus, Vladimir sent 6000 of his Varangians to Constantinople.
One of the possible marks left behind by the Varangians in Constantinople are two pieces of graffiti in Haghia Sophia. The graffiti can be found way up on a parapet on the top floor of the former basilica’s southern gallery, an area traditionally reserved for the empress and her court. The first of these graffiti, which is in the form of runic inscriptions, wasn’t discovered until 1964. The runes corresponding to the letters ‘FTAN’ are often thought to be part of the graffiti maker’s name, Halfdan. The rest of the inscription is considered illegible. A second inscription was discovered in 1975, the runes of which may be transliterated as ‘ARI : K’. The person who carved this was a person called Are.
It is known that the Varangian Guard fought for the Byzantines, but were deployed to other parts of the empire as well. Another example of Viking graffiti can be found on a marble statue of a lion, which now stands at the entrance of the naval dockyard in the Venetian Arsenal. Prior to its current location, the lion stood in the Piraeus, the ancient harbor of Athens. That’s probably where it was when runes were carved onto the shoulders and flanks of the lion. The graffiti was first recognized as runes by a Swedish diplomat during the 18th century. Unfortunately, as a result of weathering and conflict over the years, the inscription has faded to the point that it is now effectively impossible to decipher. According to Eric Brate, a Swedish linguist and runologist who took a crack at the lion runes in 1919, the inscription was carved in memory of a fallen Viking by the name of Horse. Interestingly, there is a runestone at Ulunda, in Uppland, Sweden, which commemorates someone named Horse traveling to Greece.
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With artifacts and historic sites aside, the next most common magnet for graffiti is art. An original edition of Auguste Rodin’s iconic 1881 The Thinker sculpture had occupied the front steps of the Cleveland Museum of Art for over 50 years when, in early 1970, it fell victim to a pipe bomb, which police believed was planted by same members of the radical Weather Underground who were later killed in the explosion of a Greenwich Village townhouse that served as their bomb-making facility. The effects of the blast on The Thinker (which tore off its lower legs and part of the boulder on which the figure sat) rendered it beyond repair, but Museum officials decided to put in back in place because it had been one of the last casts supervised by the artist himself.
Just like businesses too big to fail, there are works of art that seem too famous to vandalize, but fame draws taggers like  Mona Lisa has long been attracting vandals and is currently one of the best-protected artworks. In 1956, the lower part of the painting was severely damaged when a vandal doused the painting with acid while it was on display at a museum in Montauban, France. Later the same year, a young Bolivian man threw a rock at the painting. This resulted in the loss of a speck of pigment near the left elbow, which was later painted over. In April 1974, a handicapped woman, upset by the museum’s policy for the disabled, sprayed red paint at the painting while it was on display at the Tokyo National Museum. In August 2009, a Russian woman, distraught over being denied French citizenship, threw a mug, purchased at the Louvre gift shop, at the painting. Luckily, it shattered against the case. In both cases, the painting was undamaged. The use of bulletproof glass has shielded the Mona Lisa from more recent attacks.
On February 28, 1974, a 30-year-old man walked into the third-floor galleries of the Museum of Modern Art and proceeded to deface Pablo Picasso’s Guernica by spray-painting KILL ALL LIES across it in red, foot-high letters. “Call the curator,” he reportedly shouted as guards grabbed him. “I am an artist.” Think that’s brash? This vandal actually alerted the Associate Press in advance of his “art”. Rather than sending him to jail, MoMA declined to press charges, and the man himself, Tony Shafrazi, later became a hugely successful art dealer, profiting from the careers of Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kenny Scharf. Aside from garnering publicity, Shafrazi’s motivations were unclear, with him calling it an anti-war protest at some points and a retroactive collaboration with Picasso at others. As for Guernica now, Picasso had stipulated that the painting—completed in 1937 and inspired by the Spanish Civil War that led to Fascist rule—be repatriated to his native Spain once democracy was restored. It was returned in 1981, and currently resides under bulletproof glass at Madrid’s Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Bonus fact: Guernica anecdote.
Someone should have been on watch over Rembrandt’s Night Watch. In January 1911, an unemployed navy cook tried to cut it with a knife, but could not cut through the thick varnish on the painting. In 1975, William de Rijk, an unemployed school teacher, cut dozens of zigzag lines in the painting with a knife before he was wrestled by the guards. The day before, de Rijk had been turned away from the museum because he arrived after closing time. After the event, he was identified with a mental disorder; he was sent to a psychiatric hospital and committed suicide there on 21 April 1976. It took six months to restore the painting, and traces of the cuts still remain. In 1990, a man threw acid on the painting. The guards managed to quickly dilute it with water so that it penetrated only the varnish layer, and the painting was restored again.
In ‘85, Rembrandt’s 17th-century painting Danaë was attacked in the Hermitage Museum in Russia. A man, later judged insane, first threw sulfuric acid on the canvas and then cut it twice with a knife. The entire central part of the composition was virtually destroyed. The restoration took 12 years, between 1985 and 1997; since then, the painting has been protected with an armored glass.
In March 1914, militant suffragette Mary Richardson walked into the National Gallery of London and attacked Diego Velázquez’s tasteful nude painting Rokeby Venus with a meat cleaver. Quick divert: “toilet.” Her action was ostensibly provoked by the arrest of fellow suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst the previous day, although there had been earlier warnings of a planned attack on the collection. Richardson left seven slashes on the painting, all of which have been successfully repaired. Richardson was sentenced to six months imprisonment, the maximum allowed for destruction of an artwork. In a statement to the Women’s Social and Political Union shortly afterwards, Richardson explained, “I have tried to destroy the picture of the most beautiful woman in mythological history as a protest against the Government for destroying Mrs. Pankhurst, who is the most beautiful character in modern history”. She added in a 1952 interview that she didn’t like “the way men visitors gaped at it all day long”.
In 1997, Alexander Brener, a Russian-Jewish performance artist self-described political activist, painted a green dollar sign on Kazimir Malevich‘s painting The White Cross The painting was restored and Brener was sentenced to 5 months in prison. During the court case, he said in his defense: “The cross is a symbol of suffering, the dollar sign a symbol of trade and merchandise … What I did was not against the painting. I view my act as a dialogue with Malewitz.” A similar excuse was offered by Mark Bridger, an unemployed artist who added even more controversy to an already edgy exhibition at the serpentine Gallery in London. Bridger targeted a Damien Hirst original, Away from the Flock, which sold for £1.8 million in 2006 and showcased a preserved lamb set in formaldehyde. Bridger entered the gallery, opened the top of the tank and added black ink to completely cover up the animal inside. “To live is to do things,” Bridger told The Guardian. “I was providing an interesting addendum to his work. In terms of conceptual art, the sheep had already made its statement. Art is there for creating of awareness and I added to whatever it was meant to say.” The piece of art was restored overnight, but Hirst included a photo of the Black Sheep in a book he later published.
That’s thrice people claimed the artist was somehow in on what they were doing. Image where this excuse could lead…
Even educated people made the list. A Hungarian-born Australian geologist, Laszlo Toth attacked Michelangelo’s 1499 marble masterwork depicting the Virgin Mary cradling the dead body of Christ with hammer, while shouting, “I am Jesus Christ, risen from the dead!” …K. Toth struck the Piéta 15 times, breaking off Mary’s arm at the elbow as wells as part of her nose and eyelid. A group of bystanders, including an American who repeatedly punched him, tackled Toth almost immediately. The incident, which took place during the Pentecost on May 21, was triggered by Toth’s long-held fantasy that he was Jesus; he’d even written the Pope the prior year to demand that he be recognized as The Messiah. Judged to be insane, Toth was committed to a mental hospital in Italy for two years before deportation back to Australia. He never faced jail time for is actions.
Name the tools of the vandal? Spray paint, knives, hammers, acid is quite popular apparently, a shot gun. While hanging in London’s National Gallery, a large charcoal drawing of ”The Virgin and Child with St. Anne and St. John the Baptist,” created around 1500 by Leonardo da Vinci became a gunshot victim when one Robert Cambridge peppered the work with a shotgun he’d hidden under his coat. Though he fired from about seven feet away, the pellets themselves didn’t damage the work. Ironically, shards from a section of protective laminated glass that were pulverized by the blast tore a six-inch diameter hole into a part of the drawing containing the Virgin Mary’s robe. The 1988 restoration involved “an elaborate process in which dozens of tiny fragments of paper were glued back together, one by one.” Cambridge, meanwhile, was confined to an mental institution after telling police he’d been motivated by his disgust with the policies of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. What the Iron Lady has to do with Leonardo da Vinci remains unclear.
Mark Rothko’s 1958 abstraction was defaced as it hung in London’s Tate Gallery by one Wlodzimierz Umaniec, an artist, blogger and sole proponent of an artistic philosophy he dubbed Yellowism. Using a black marker, he wrote “A POTENTIAL PIECE OF YELLOWISM” in the painting’s lower right-hand corner, adding the pseudonymous signature, Vladimir Umanets. Umaniec spent the next year in prison and after his release, professed some unconvincing regret in an editorial written for The Guardian newspaper.
A huge elongated funnel-shaped metal structure originally fabricated in 2011, Dirty Corner is the creation of one of Great Britain’s most famous contemporary artists, Anish Kapoor. In June of 2015 it was installed in the gardens of the French Palace at Versailles, and thanks to its vulva-like shape was immediately dubbed “the Queen’s vagina” by detractors. However, the objections to the controversial piece went beyond naughty nicknames when someone threw yellow paint on it. After it was cleaned, the sculpture was again defaced, this time with Anti-Semitic graffiti spray-painted in white though the artist is, in fact, Indian. Kapoor, who refused to have the piece cleaned a second time, blamed the second incident on France’s poor treatment of its Muslim population.
Sometime the vandal is the person you least expect. The Frenzy of Exultations a famous painting by Władysław Podkowinski, showing crazed naked woman riding a wild horse caused a big controversy and a scandal in Warsaw art salons after its 1894 debut. The exhibition lasted only 36 days because Podkowinski brought a knife on the 37th day and tried to destroy his work, especially damaging the figure of the woman. The cause of his behavior had not been completely clarified. When Podkowinski painted it he was already in the last stages of tuberculosis, he died one year later in the age of 29.
An tht’s …A rather unusual case, which might not qualify as vandalism, occurred in 1908. An exhibition was set up for May of that year with paintings by Claude Monet, which had already been praised by critics and were estimated at $100,000 (1908 prices, 2.5mil). Despite this, Monet decided that he was not satisfied with his work and in a sudden move, destroyed all the paintings with a knife and a paint brush. Ethics discussions broke out: Should an artist have the right to destroy his own work? At least one expert thought so and praised him for being a true artist rather than a manufacturer, telling the New York Times, “It is a pity, perhaps, that some other painters do not do the same.”
drawings on microchips
2014 a Russian tourist was fined $25,000 for scratching a giant ‘K’ into the wall of Colosseum.