“I’m a fool, what have I done!”

A security guard assigned to draw the eyes on a vanguard painting of Anna Leporskaya at the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg last December was identified in a local media interview on Friday as Aleksandr Vasiliev, a wounded veteran of the Afghan wars and Chechen. In a remorseful confession, he told Russian news site reporter Elena Pankratieva E1, that he thought the faceless image was a “child’s drawing” that teenagers visiting the exhibit asked him to improve.

“I’m a fool, what have I done!” the 63-year-old told the online publication, which noted that while the incident was humorously portrayed, “the conversation turned out not to be funny at all”.

Vasiliev talked about how other veterans helped him get the job at the gallery despite his many war wounds. He recalled that during the first Chechen war in 1995, only four men from his squadron of 36 survived and that doctors in Moscow called him “crazy” due to severe head and lung injuries and bullet wounds all over his body. He received a medal for courage in the Chechen war.

“A concussion affected his psychological and emotional health,” according to E1, although he managed to work as a security guard for years in various places, most recently in a bank. But his work continued. His wife died and in 2014 his only son was stabbed to death in the street. He says he wasn’t sure he would be able to handle the work at the Yeltsin Center and was unimpressed with the exhibition, nor with Leporskaya’s work on loan from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

“At first I wanted to refuse, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to stand all day, without the possibility of sitting down,” he explained, due to his serious leg injuries. “But they told me: if you work a shift, we will pay you right away. I went to work. To be honest, I didn’t really like these works [at the exhibition]. They left a bad impression. I tried to pass without looking. I watched how people reacted and saw: 16-17 year old kids are standing there, discussing why there are no eyes, no mouth, no beauty! There were girls in the group, and they asked me: “Draw eyes, you work here. I asked them, ‘Are these your works?’ They said, ‘Yes.’ They gave me a pen. I drew the eyes. I thought it was just their childhood drawings!

Vasiliev said E1 that he had no idea he had done anything wrong. Other museum visitors passed smiling. He started to feel bad about standing up and asked to go home. At first he didn’t understand the charges against him when the police came to see him a few days later and he offered to “delete everything so it’s not visible”. The article further claims that the teenagers who allegedly pushed him did not end up in the security camera footage.

Vasiliev says he would never have damaged the work if he had known that “the paintings were brought from Moscow and are so expensive”. His wife, whom he met three years ago, said E1 that he is “absolutely normal in everyday life” but in some things “is naive as a child”, attributing his actions to his concussion and his overwhelming desire not to stay home. “He really wanted to work,” she said. “I think it’s a tragedy of part of his generation. There are a lot of people like him who lost their health, who were cast on the margins of life.”

The city of Yekaterinburg has a complicated history. Former Tsar Nicholas II and his family were assassinated here in 1918. In the early Soviet era, it was a center of constructivist architecture. Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin began his path to national power here at the end of the Soviet era. The city is a military-industrial center with many Afghan and Chechen veterans. Today it is known as a center of contemporary Russian art, home of the Urals Industrial Biennale.

At the same time, the vandalism of Leporskaya’s painting sparked a Soviet-style disdain for avant-garde art.

After Leporskaya’s degradation, Boris Yakemenko, a former pro-Kremlin youth ideologue, described avant-garde artists as parasites and cowards who exploit the idea of ​​”radical artistic gesture” in a message on the Telegram instant messaging service. The security guard’s actions, he wrote, are an example of “a radical move hitting back at its creators under the ‘law of the boomerang'”.

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