The 20-Year-Old Who Punched a Picasso Painting at Tate Modern as a ‘Performance’ Is Going to Jail for 18 Months

“There is nothing to suggest you were anything other than a 20-year-old seeking fame,” the sentencing judge concluded.

Tate Modern. Photo by David Mbiyu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.
Tate Modern. Photo by David Mbiyu/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

A 20-year-old man has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after attacking a prized Picasso painting at Tate Modern last year.

The incident took place on December 28, when Shakeel Massey, a Spanish architecture student, punched Picasso’s 1944 painting Bust of a Woman numerous times. He held metal padlocks and wrapped his hand in a scarf to break through the protective glass, ripping the canvas before tearing it off the wall. Museum visitors looked on in shock as security guards detained him. 

Massey told the guards at the time that the act was a “performance.” According to the Evening Standard, he had on his person at the time a handwritten note explaining the amount of prison time he expected for the episode and details of his personal finances. The note also referenced the last high-profile vandalization to take place at the Tate, which occurred in 2012 when Polish artist Vladimir Umanets made an “artistic statement” by defacing a Mark Rothko painting. 

“He did what he did foolishly for five minutes of fame,” the lawyer representing Massey said in London’s Inner City Crown court. “He was an immature artist making a point of who knows what. It’s really unjustifiable.”

“It is difficult to conclude anything other than this offense was committed for the purpose of notoriety,” the judge agreed upon sentencing Massey. “There is nothing to suggest you were anything other than a 20-year-old seeking fame.”

Picasso’s painting, a portrait of his one-time muse Dora Maar, is worth roughly $26 million, the museum estimates. It’s owned by a private collector but has been on loan to the Tate since 2011, according to the BBC.  

In court, experts testified that repair efforts would take up to 18 months and cost over $450,000.

Massey pleaded guilty to one charge of criminal damage. Upon sentencing him, the judge explained the need to set a precedent for such an action.

“I have concluded without hesitation the impact upon the public and the gravity of this offense, together with the need to deter others from this form of conduct requires the imposition of an immediate custodial sentence,” the judge said.

“We thank the court for their careful consideration of this case and have noted the outcome,” a representative from Tate Modern told Artnet News. “The work is undergoing a period of conservation.”


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