Suspect charged with defacing priceless Picasso painting at Houston museum

Suspect charged with defacing priceless Picasso painting at Houston museum

Uriel Landeros' driver's license photo

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by KHOU.com Staff & Associated Press

khou.com

Posted on June 22, 2012 at 12:08 PM

Updated Friday, Jun 22 at 5:39 PM

HOUSTON — A Houston man has been charged with defacing a Picasso painting at the Menil Collection.

Police are now trying to track down 22-year-old Uriel Landeros, but they think he might have skipped town.

Landeros is charged with criminal mischief and felony graffiti. Both are third-degree felonies punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The charges could be upgraded to first-degree felonies, depending on how much it costs to restore the painting.

Landeros has dark hair and eyes. He’s around 5’8 and weighs about 180 lbs. He has several tattoos.

The act of vandalism was caught in a 24-second video posted on YouTube.

It shows a man dressed in black holding a stencil up to the work of art and then spray-painting the stencil before ripping it away and walking off. An image of a bullfighter, a bull and the word "conquista," which is Spanish for conquest, is left behind.

Once the man walks away, the person taking the video approaches the painting, recording the damage. The fact that the witness happened to film the vandal at the moment he damaged the painting has some speculating whether the two were working together.

Houston police spokeswoman Jodi Silva said investigators are reviewing both surveillance video from the museum and the video posted on YouTube. When asked earlier this week if police think the vandal and witness were working together, she said, "We’re taking all the information and we’re looking at all aspects of the incident."

She would not say whether police had spoken to the witness who shot the video.

The YouTube poster described the video as a tribute "In Dedication to the art beast Pablo Picasso."

The 1932 painting called "Woman in a Red Armchair" was taken to an on-site conservation lab at the Menil for repairs.

Menil spokesperson Vance Muse said earlier this week the restoration was going well but he didn’t know when the painting will be displayed again.

"Even if the treatment is completed, it would need rest for quite a while," he said. "We would not want to bring it out of the conservation lab prematurely."

The painting has been part of The Menil Collection since 1956.

This is not the first time one of Picasso’s works has been vandalized. In 1999, an escaped mental patient in Amsterdam cut a hole in the middle of his "Woman Nude Before Garden," a 1956 painting.

Other works of art have also been the target of vandals. Rembrandt’s "Night Watch" masterpiece has been slashed twice and sprayed once with sulfuric acid. The "Mona Lisa" has been attacked several times, including with acid, a rock and even a teacup.

The Menil, which opened in 1987 and is free to the public, will review its security measures, which include surveillance cameras and two dozen guards, Muse said. But he didn’t anticipate major changes, such as placing paintings behind protective glass or keeping visitors farther from the works of art.

"I think a museum-goer always appreciates it when a work of art seems more accessible than that. You don’t have all those layers," he said. "And I think the Menil loves the fact the art there is very accessible. It’s almost like entering someone’s wonderful house."

Anyone with information about the location of Uriel Landeros is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS (8477). A reward of $5,000 is being offered for information leading to his arrest.

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