A Couple Accidentally Defaced a $400,000 Work of Art in South Korea

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When a couple came across a large-scale abstract painting on the walls of a Seoul shopping mall, they decided to take part in what they thought was a public participatory mural, picking up a nearby paintbrush and adding three green brushstrokes to the canvas.

Little did they know, this deceptively inviting piece was done by American graffiti artist JonOne, who frequently shows his works to highlight the act of making. In this case, he had purposefully displayed the canvas behind a curated array of paint cans and brushes, as well as the shoes he wore while making the piece. The work was part of “Street Noise,” an exhibition within the Lotte World Mall in Seoul that featured more than 130 different works by over a dozen artists to highlight graffiti culture across the globe.

Shortly thereafter, security footage identified a couple in their early 20s, who were arrested and taken in for questioning. When it became clear that they had no intention in committing a crime, they were released, causing confusion among authorities and gallerists alike.

Graffiti artist JonOne, pictured here with another one of his works. 

Photo: Getty

This controversy is sparking yet another larger conversation about rhyme and reason within the contemporary art market. When The New York Times asked the artist himself about the incident, he responded that “art should be religious,” and that “you don’t paint on a church.” Others took a more pensive approach, speculating that the act was a deliberate commentary on the work itself.

It has yet to be determined whether the painting will be restored. Some believe, as with the notorious fate of Maurizio Catalan’s taped banana, the newfound attention centered around the work will skyrocket its value. However, if it is to be restored to JonOne’s wishes, the couple could be found partially liable for the $9,000 restoration fee.

The couple, who refuse to respond publicly, claimed in their statement that they are not at fault since the signage at the time was unclear. The gallery has since responded by eliminating all ambiguity, putting up fencing around the work with additional guidelines.



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