Shocking the Houston Police Department and art critics alike, UH student Uriel Landeros has been charged with two third-degree felonies, criminal mischief and felony graffiti, after allegedly defacing Picasso piece “Woman in a Red Armchair” at the Menil Collection on Friday.
A video posted on YouTube last week shows Landeros walking up to the painting, spraying on an image and walking away. According to the man who shot the video, an anonymous source, Landeros claimed to be honoring Picasso’s work by spraying “conquista,” Spanish for “conquest,” and a picture of a bull onto the painting.
Crime Stoppers, the organization that identified Landeros, is calling upon Houston residents for their help in capturing the University student.
“Landeros is described as a white male, standing 5’8”, weighing 180 lbs. Anyone with information about the location of Uriel Landeros is asked to call Crime Stoppers,” Crime Stoppers wrote in an email.
Vance Muse, the communications director at the Menil Collection, recounts the steps taken by the museum once the crime was discovered.
“(The graffiti) was spotted instantly. Luckily, we have a conservation lab, a world-renowned lab, right down the hall. The painting was removed and rushed down there where it now undergoing study, treatment and repair,” Muse said. “Our Chief Conservator, Brad Epley, has (not been) talking to the press because he has been so intent on restoring this piece.”
Muse said he is thankful that despite the incident, “Woman in a Red Armchair” will remain mostly undamaged and will be up shortly.
“We were shocked and saddened. Every museum enjoys and relies on a trust with their visitors,” Muse said. “The Menil is free of charge. It is a shame that that courtesy was taken advantage of. However, the painting will be fine and back up soon.”
Most UH faculty were reluctant to comment on the situation, hoping to preserve Landeros’s privacy. However, Director of the UH School of Art, Rex Koontz did state that he hopes the relationship cultivated between the Menil and the University will be preserved in spite of the incident.
“As well as providing our students with invaluable experience of important artworks, the Menil Collection has been especially generous in offering UH students internship and job opportunities,” Koontz said. “These real-art-world opportunities give our students a tangible advantage in the art world after they graduate. This is especially important because many of our students are the first in their family to enter the art world.”
While a quick Internet search reveals bloggers applauding Landeros’s bravery and rebelliousness, not all his peers feel the same. Economics senior and Vice President of the UH rugby team on which Landeros plays, William Chuoke, has conflicted feels upon hearing about this graffiti.
“Uriel ‘Rufio’ has always been a good friend, teammate and student here at UH. The whole situation saddens me and the team deeply,” Chuoke said.
For more information on the case, visit www.houstonpolice.org. To report any information on Landeros’s whereabouts, contact Crime Stoppers at (713) 222-8477.