HOUSTON – It’s a story that’s hard to forget. In June, a man walked into the Menil Collection, right up to a priceless Picasso painting and vandalized it with spray paint. It was caught on cellphone video.
For the last five months, the man who committed that crime has been on the run. But Local 2’s Nefertiti Jaquez tracked him down.
After defacing the 1929 Picasso painting, Uriel Landeros vanished and has remained silent until his exclusive interview with Local 2.
“Who would think a little image of a bullfighter fighting a bull would lead to all of this. You know?” Landeros said.
The 22-year-old artist, who’s been hiding out in northern Mexico, detailed his motivation behind the crime that rocked the Houston art community.
“I don’t regret anything that I’ve done,” Landeros said.
Landeros said he’s not apologetic for spray painting a stenciled image of a bull, a matador, and the Spanish word “CONQUISTA,” which means conquest, onto Picasso’s “Woman in a Red Armchair.”
“(Expletive) his painting. It’s just a piece of cloth. What matters most is the people who are suffering,” Landeros said.
Landeros said his actions were fueled by a mixture of social and political defiance.
“I’m part of the whole Occupy movement,” Landeros explained.
Jaquez asked Landeros to think back to June 13, when he walked into the Menil.
“What was your intention?” Jaquez asked
“To create awareness in people, you know? We have to bend the laws to improve the laws,” Landeros said.
Landeros said he chose the 13th of June because the number refers to a power structure. He said all he wanted to do was shed light on the corruption of banks, government and large institutions in the United States and Mexico.
“If I wanted to destroy that piece, I could have done it,” he claimed. “The spray paint that I used was easily taken away. I think the Menil was embarrassed that a 20-year-old kid could walk in there and do what they don’t want me to do.”
The act was caught on cellphone video by a museum patron as it happened, then quickly posted on YouTube.
While many art lovers believe what Landeros did was a disgrace, he seemed unfazed and said what he did wasn’t vandalism, but a call for justice.
“I really don’t give a (expletive) about the 15 minutes of fame,” Landeros said. “If anything, I made that painting more famous than what it is.”
Although he doesn’t think marring a priceless painting is a big deal, local and state authorities do.
“Do you plan on going back to Houston to face the music and the charges?” Jaquez asked.
“Right now, it’s not my priority,” Landeros said.
Landeros is confident he can continue to evade authorities.
“I don’t think they’ll catch me. If I turn myself in that’s how they’re going to get to see my face.”
Landeros has been officially charged with felony graffiti and criminal mischief. They are crimes that carry a two- to 10-year sentence and a fine of up to $10,000.
As for the painting, it went directly to an on-site conservation where experts at the Menil are working to have it restored.