The Painting's Heads Had No Eyes. Then, Suddenly, They Did

'Bored' security guard at Russia's Yeltsin Center is accused of doodling on painting insured for $1M
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 10, 2022 11:59 AM CST

When most people working a monotonous shift get bored, they might listen to a podcast, text a friend, or play a round of Wordle. Or, if you're a security guard at a museum, you might whip out a ballpoint pen and deface a piece of avant-garde art. The Guardian reports that's what allegedly happened late last year at Russia's Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg, where two visitors noticed something odd while strolling around the gallery on Dec. 7. As they stared at Anna Leporskaya's Three Figures—a painting created in the early 1930s that depicts three abstract faceless heads—the guests noticed that two of the heads were no longer completely faceless: Someone had scribbled eyes on them (check out the before and after here).

It took nearly two weeks for the museum to report the vandalism, and when it finally did, Yekaterinburg's Ministry of Internal Affairs called the damage to the painting "insignificant" and said there would be no criminal charges in the case. Alexander Drozdov, the gallery's executive director, also initially denied that the security guard had anything to do with the defacement, per ARTnews. However, Russia's Ministry of Culture soon filed a complaint about the incident, and last week police opened an investigation, with the guard, who's been fired from the private security firm he worked for, once more at the center of suspicion.

Anna Reshetkina, the exhibit's curator, alleges to a Russian news site that the security guard vandalized the painting on his first day on the job, per the BBC. "His motives are still unknown, but the administration believes it was some kind of a lapse in sanity," she notes. The guard could face up to three months in prison if convicted, as well as a fine. Meanwhile, the Leporskaya painting has been taken down and returned to the Moscow gallery from which it had been loaned; the cost to restore the art, which had been insured for $1 million, is expected to run around $3,300. The museum has since installed protective screens over all of its other art. (More art vandalism stories.)

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