Pissed-Off Painters Take Revenge

Rachel Somerstein

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The Gold Scab (detail)
Photo: Molly Eyres

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Sandra Three—The Killer Critic
R. B. Kitaj

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LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art paints over Italian street artist Blu’s mural
Photo: Casey Caplowe

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Poster of MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch
Photo: LA RAW

Early last December, Italian street artist Blu painted a mural for LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. It was intended to accompany an upcoming exhibit called Art in the Streets. But, ostensibly because the work’s antiwar theme might be offensive to veterans, the museum painted over it within a day. In response, a contingent of (mostly anonymous) fellow artists took revenge, slapping up a poster that showed MOCA director Jeffrey Deitch as an ayatollah clutching a paint roller. Deitch should have known that wrathful daubers don’t take affronts lightly; after all, painters have been exacting revenge for more than 700 years. Here are just a few ways artists have gotten even.

  • ARTIST: Buonamico Buffalmacco
    YEAR: 14th century

    A patron refuses to pay him for his fresco of the Virgin and Child, so the Italian painter substitutes a bear cub for baby Jesus.
  • ARTIST: Michelangelo
    YEAR: Circa 1540

    Pope Paul III and Master of Ceremonies Biagio da Cesena come to the Sistine Chapel to view Mike’s almost-finished painting The Last Judgment. Da Cesena complains that the naked bodies in the image befit the baths or a tavern, not a chapel. So Michelangelo adds da Cesena to the work, depicting him as an ass in hell—a donkey-eared Minos, judge of the underworld.
  • ARTIST: James Abbott McNeill Whistler
    YEAR: 1879

    After falling out with longtime patron Frederick Leyland, Whistler paints The Gold Scab. The 6-foot-high work shows Leyland as a hunchbacked peacock wearing a deranged expression and playing the piano.
  • ARTIST: Richard Pettibone
    YEAR: 1970s

    A couple commissions New York artist Richard Pettibone to paint their portrait. But they are so unhappy with the work that they refuse to pay for it. Pettibone repairs to his studio to “fix” the piece—and changes nothing but his subjects’ eyes. The resulting painting shows the preppy, turtleneck-clad pair to be blissfully, stupidly cross-eyed.
  • ARTIST: R. B. Kitaj
    YEAR: 1997

    Kitaj is convinced that searing criticism of his Tate retrospective caused the death of his wife, the artist Sandra Fisher. So he paints a scathing group of works called Sandra Three—The Killer Critic (one of them depicts figures shooting at a monstrous critic’s engorged head) and shows them at the Royal Academy.

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