A vandal hit the Whitney Museum of American Art after midnight today, spray painting a string of black letters across a fourth-floor wall. The museum was open all night as part of a 36-hour swan song for “Jeff Koons: A Retrospective.” According to a guard standing in front of the unintelligible message, which was scrawled just beside Hanging Heart (Violet/Gold) (1994–2006), the culprit was apprehended. The Whitney’s communications team told ARTnews that he was released into NYPD custody and charged with criminal mischief.
The New York Times has identified the suspect as Christopher Johnson, 33, of Manhattan, and linked to an Instagram video that seems to show the vandalism taking place.
No further security measures appeared to be in effect beyond the lone guard stationed on the scene, and the museum quickly set about repainting the wall. The retrospective ends its run tonight at 11 p.m. It is the final show that the Whitney is presenting at its Breuer Building before moving down to its new Renzo Piano–designed home in the Meatpacking District, which it will open in the spring.
The show was previously vandalized in August, by an artist who painted a blood-red X on one of the walls.
Beyond the graffiti incident, there was a generally apocalyptic atmosphere to the late-night scene. Two young girls navigated the artist’s hardcore “Made in Heaven” series with unsettling nonchalance. Someone opened an emergency exit on the second floor and the shrill beeps joined drunken voices echoing through the stairwell. A woman wearing a wedding dress drifted past Hulk (Organ) (2004–14) like it was a roadside attraction in the desert on the way to her Vegas chapel. Only a very skeletal crew of museum staff appeared to be on hand. It almost felt as though the building was going to be torn down after this one last blowout.
Update, 11:50 a.m.: Added the video and the suspect’s name.
Update, 9:50 a.m.: Corrected that the noise in the stairwell was from an emergency exit, not a fire alarm, and added that the alleged tagger was released into NYPD custody and charged with criminal mischief, not just escorted from the building.