In early December 2021, Aleksandr Vasiliev, took up a job as a security guard at the Yeltsin Center in the city of Yekaterinburg in west-central Russia. And his first day went as badly as it could have.
During his shift at the cultural center, Vasiliev took a a ballpoint pen and drew eyes on the blank faces featured on Three Figures, a $1.4 million painting by the famed late Russian artist Anna Leporskaya.
@ciaosasha 👁👄👁 #art #artist #russia #russian ♬ Nutcracker – Mariachi Sol de Mexico de Jose Hernandez
The guard made his additions in December, but the act of vandalism on the Leporskaya painting was recently picked up by just about every news outlet and social media platform in the world. Most of them reported the guard’s actions as the result of boredom, but an interview Vasiliev gave to Russian news site E1 (as reported by Artnews), gives us his side of the story — and it’s not quite as straightforward as many thought.
Vasiliev explains that it wasn’t boredom that pushed him to add his own personal touch to Three Figures, but a group of teenage girls and a lot of confusion about the art displayed on the walls. “I watched how people were reacting, and saw that 16-17 year-old kids are standing, discussing why there are no eyes, no mouth, no beauty! There were girls in the group, and they asked me: ‘Draw eyes, you work here.’ I asked them: ‘Are these your works?’ They said: ‘Yes.’ They gave me a pen. I drew the eyes. I thought it was just their childhood drawings!”
Vasiliev, a 63-year-old war veteran who has suffered severe physical and psychological trauma, was allegedly not keen on taking the job as he thought it may prove too draining for his condition, but the money was good, so he went for it. Unfortunately, after his first day on the job, he was arrested and charged for vandalism. He faces three months in prison and a fine.
Vasiliev bitterly regrets his action. “I’m a fool, what have I done,” he said during the interview.
Earlier this month, The exhibition’s curator, Anna Reshetkina, told The Guardian that Vasiliev was believed to have had “a kind of a lapse in sanity.”
Leporskaya’s painting, which was a loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, has been returned to the Russian capital and restored to its original state. The rest of the paintings in the exhbition have been protected with clear screens.