This is a painting by Malevich, the Russian futurist/avant-garde painter from the beginning of the 20th century (author of the famous Black Square). It represents a white cross on a white background. The graffiti on it is a graffiti (and not part of the original painting!), and was made by Alexander Brener, a highly provocative and controversial contemporary Russian artist. In 1997, Brener went into the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum and spray-painted a dollar sign on Malevitch's Suprematism 1922-1927, a white cross on white background. More on the story: here, and here is a letter of support for the artist (who ended up spending many months in prison). There is also a note about Brener and other interesting/controversial/new Russian artists on this site.
Banksy was obviously not the first rebel with a cause (though his is not too inventive: "These Galleries are just trophy cabinets for a handful of millionaires. The public never has any real say in what art they see.") . An old article in the Guardian gives several more examples. There's even a book about purposeful destruction of art (The Destruction of Art by Dario Gamboni) - you can read this pretty crazy book's description at Amazon).
But Brener had something more: he had a conversation with art history. He dared to interpret it in a radical way. He reminded us that Malevich had ambiguous feelings towards art as a market, and towards the role of museums in the art world. Malevich was a serious rebel himself (and the cost for him was a miserable last stage of life). In his text called Suprematism, he declares
Suprematism is the rediscovery of pure art which, in the course of time, had become obscured by the accumulation of "things."
It appears to me that, for the critics and the public, the painting of Raphael, Rubens, Rembrandt, etc., has become nothing more than a conglomeration of countless "things," which conceal its true value the feeling which gave rise to it. The virtuosity of the objective representation is the only thing admired.Can you feel the vibration that rings in those early 20th-century words and motivates Alexander Brener (and echoes in Banksy)? Brener learned his lessons right:
- He is quite original.
- His performances were powerful.
- He has guts even in the way he writes: The third world is the world of despised discourses and wasted hot flesh outbursts, spit and sperm in the poor districts of Mexico City and Brooklyn, in the Viennese Turkish ghetto and in the heart of Moscow. This excited, tongue-tied, pimple-faced third world also needs an artist. How else could it be? Then why can’t I be this artist and explain to you what kind of unpleasant art he is trying to create?
What a shame. What a shame. When the old Malevich was forced by Stalin to paint "realistic" paintings, he signed them with a little black square on white.
A little black square, about two centimeters large. That's all it takes.