Gallery show for accused Picasso vandal raises ire

Associated Press
In this  Oct. 23, 2012 photo, James Perez, owner of Cueto James Art Gallery, poses between pieces titled "Ego", left, and "Legalize Drugs", right, that will be in the show titled "Uriel Landeros: Houston We Have a Problem" in Houston. Uriel Landeros, is the man accused of vandalizing a Picasso painting at the Menil with spray paint in June.  (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Melissa Phillip)
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A Houston art gallery has raised the ire of the local art community by staging a show of works by a 22-year-old who's been on the lam since being charged with spray-painting a Pablo Picasso painting.

Despite the uproar, Cueto James Art Gallery owner James Perez expects a full house for Friday's opening of 12 works by Uriel Landeros.

"It made me happy that someone could evoke this kind of emotion in people," Perez said.

Landeros was charged with felony graffiti and felony criminal mischief for allegedly defacing "Woman in a Red Armchair" at Houston's Menil Collection on June 13. A video posted on YouTube showed a man holding a stencil up to the work of art and spray-painting it, leaving behind an image of a bullfighter, a bull and the word "conquista," Spanish for conquest.

Perez, who said he was interested in Landeros' work prior to the vandalism charge, said he found the act inspiring.

"It's just taking something and making it your own. I like what Uriel did. That it makes it yours," Perez said.

But the contention that the stencil was itself art has especially angered people in the Houston arts community.

"You don't destroy someone else's artwork and call that art," said artist Mitch Cohen, an arts promoter and founder of the First Saturday Arts Market. "I've never seen such a backlash against a show."

Kristen Kramlich, who creates jewelry and sculptures, said, "It's all about the sensationalism and that's what (Landeros is) riding on and that's what the gallery is riding on."

Perez denied the show is meant to draw attention to himself, saying, "I'm already popular. This is for Uriel."

Art community members also say it's galling to see so much attention being paid to this show when local gallery shows usually escape widespread notice.

"The greatest gallery exhibit in history would not get this publicity," said Houston art blogger Robert Boyd, who noted he'd not heard of Landeros prior to the vandalism charge.

Andree Bober, director of Landmarks, a public art program at the University of Texas at Austin, said this vandalism incident isn't unique.

"It's not a new statement. It's a derivative one," she said.

Earlier this month, a vandal scrawled graffiti on a mural by modern American master Mark Rothko at London's Tate Modern.

Perez said the fugitive artist will speak with attendees via Skype at Friday's gallery opening, but that Landeros would not speak with the media until then.

Perez said that he expects 200-300 people to stream through his 3,000-square-foot gallery Friday night to see paintings that he deems "revolutionary" in subject matter. One painting is of a half-skeletal person.

Landeros, who Perez says is in Mexico, posted a video on YouTube in August in which he explains that he didn't intend to "destroy Pablo's painting or to insult the Menil." He said if he wanted to destroy it, he would have slashed it with a knife or burned it. Landeros also claimed the Picasso could be restored with "a little bit of Windex."

Menil spokeswoman Gretchen Sammons said the institution had no comment on the show. She said restoration is still under way on the piece and they expect "a full recovery."

Donna Hawkins, a Harris County assistant district attorney, said Landeros faces two to 10 years in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

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