Vuk Cosic on Fri, 14 Feb 97 22:23 MET

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

nettime: (Fwd) Report from the Court room

one more bingo
------- Forwarded Message Follows -------
Date:          Thu, 13 Feb 1997 23:02:37 -0800
From:          Miran Mohar <>

       Alexander Brenner trial transcript 
       Wed, 12 Feb 1997 19:24:18 +0000 
       Miran Mohar <>

The following text is for Dave Lindsay, The Irwin Group, Eda Cufer,
Goran Djordjevic, and to whomever else it may concern, or who can make
honest use of it. Feel free to pass this on to other e-mail addresses
or mailing lists where the same conditions apply.

by Michael Benson


The trial began a bit late, at around 2:15 today, Wednesday the 12th
of February 1997, when Brenner came through a door in the side of the
courtroom. Simultaneously the three judges, prosecutor and court
reporter appeared from another side door behind the slightly elevated
table which the judges sat behind. Brenner looked grim, was wearing a
maroon shirt, and has grown a beard in jail. He has been on a hunger
strike for 20 days and looks like he lost a lot of weight.

The judges consisted of two men and a woman: N. Blankevoort, M.
Vermenlen, and A. Smit (first names not available). The prosecutor was
W. van Schaayck (umlaut on the "y"). The lawyer for the defendant was
Mr. M.A.M. Pijnenburg. Sasha was also accompanied by a woman who
interpreted for him throughout the trial, which lasted just under two
hours. (I don't know her name.) The verdict will not be announced for
14 days from today. A motion for immediate release pending the verdict
was denied; Alexander Brenner remains in De Zwaag Prison in the
village of Hoorn.

An exceedingly sober atmosphere permeated the courtroom. It lightened
only once, towards the end, when defence lawyer Pijnenburg said that
the removal of the large green dollar sign from the surface of the
Malevich painting itself removed some of the value of the painting,
because Alexander Brenner's action had been an artistic one and had to
be interpreted in that way. (In other words the restoration of the
work didn't restore value but took away value). This created a low-key
audience laugh.

Another interesting detail. From speaking with Geurt Imanse, a curator
at Stedelijk Museum with a particular interest in Russian and Eastern
art, I learned that the Stedelijk Malevich works had only recently
been cleaned of their varnish. This happened because they were
recently shown, internationally, side-by-side with Malevich works
originating from Russian museums (where they had mostly been in
storage for decades). By comparison with the Russian-origin paintings,
the Stedelijk ones looked bad -- therefore it was decided that
Malevich had never used varnish on his works, and that the (faintly
old-looking) varnish on the Stedelijk ones would be taken off.
Ironically enough, it was precisely this action which enabled the
green paint from Brenner's spray can to penetrate the cracquelures of
the painting.

Truska Bast, culture journalist for major Amsterdam daily Het Parools,
also told me that since she interviewed Sasha in jail a couple weeks
ago she has received several calls from him, that he was remoseful,
that he didn't expect to be arrested, and certainly not jailed, and
that he felt very badly and needed to see a doctor. (There was some
ambiguity as to if this meant a psychiatrist or a normal MD).

What follows is the complete extent of what I could get from the
sometimes fragmentary simultaneous translation graciously provided for
me by Jan Merton, of the Ministry of Justice Press Office. It is a
transcript starting somewhere in the first 15 minutes of the trial --
the earlier questions and answers were lost to me as I didn't have a
source of translation. So what follows is not at all complete; there
was testimony by Geurt Imanse, a curator at the Stedelijk, which I
didn't write down, as well as another representative of that museum,
who testified as to the extent of the damage and the price tag
involved. However, I believe I got some of the key statements by
Brenner, the judges, the prosecution, and the defense.

Additionally, one detail I only got later, from a Stedelijik employee:
Brenner said during the trial that the green dollar sign at the center
of the white cross in the Malevich painting was a specific placement
of the sign in Christ's position. I also heard later that he made it
clear during the trial that he had premeditated the action, planned it
in detail, and that it was entirely willful. He at no time attempted
to argue that he was anything other than fully aware of what he was

NOTE: Wherever the following appears: (...) there were statements that
I missed, for whatever reason.


Initial discussion centered around previous Brenner "actions." Viktor
Misiano's name came up repeatedly in connection with his "Open Letter
To The World." One judge quoted, in English, the following statement:
"The actual action was a crime. On an artistic level it was the
repetition of old Dada ideology." (It is not clear to me who the judge
was quoting -- Misiano, Brenner, or a third person.)

One of the judges asked about Alexander's motivations. He answered
(again, bear in mind that this was translated from Russian into Dutch,
and only then into English -- therefore it may not be entirely

Brenner: "The institutions dealing with art are not respectable. The
elite put the success of art into institutions. I thought that 20th
century art was open, but this culture has closed it -- it is no
longer a human culture. There's a small cultural world, but for me the
idea of a democratic culture is important. Everybody in the street
could have done the same action I did. In this way you can give your
attitude a meaning against this closed culture. Everyone knows what a
dollar sign means. The dollar sign is counter to art. Malevich wanted
to change the world using art. But now he is just a commercial site.
I'm a poet. I write articles and poems. Actually, I'm an artist in the
social tradition. This act was very important for me. For me it was a
scream. The  borders of art are very strict. Art is the symbolic. Art
cannot be a crime against people. And I protest that my act be
connected with violence. It was a deed of art and I did not cross that

Judge: "So you are allowed to damage a piece of art and not anything
else? If you only damage a piece of art it's alright?"

Brenner: "But in art the artist has an agreement what can and can not
be done. In the 1970's an American painted on Picasso's Guernica. It
was a protest against the Vietnam war. By now he belongs to the
American establishment. My goal is communication with people." (...)

Judge: "Have you heard of the concept that in a communication both
participants stay living? And in this case one side was damaged."

Brenner: "My act was an individual one, it was not as the member of a
group. But the art elite are now against me. Antonin Artaud and ...
(NOTE: Brenner also mentioned two other artists, but my interpreter
didn't catch the names) were also victims of the modern art elite."

Judge: "What happened after your act in Stockholm? Did you appear
before a judge?"

Brenner: "No, because what I did was understood and it was right."

NOTE: at this stage the state prosecutor, who had only previously
spoken at the beginning, when the charges were read, was asked to
speak again and state what he believed the sentence should be. The
prosecutor then listed the exact sequence of actions which caused
Brenner's being on trial. He charged him with deliberately damaging
the picture. He pointed out that he could ask for up to three years in
jail for the defendant.

Prosecutor: (...) "The object cannot be replaced. Everybody could be
looking at it now in the museum. Now nobody can see it in its original
state. The damage to the painting is between one and one half million
to three million guilders. Especially for an artist, there must be
more creative things to do to make your meaning known. For all art
lovers, it's a great loss that Malevich's painting has been damaged.
Also the Stedelijk Museum has suffered a very big financial loss. The
artists, Malevich, needs protection against these kinds of deeds. This
is something completely different from damaging a car or something
like that, because it's a unique piece of art, and the entire society
suffers because of that. In Holland we put pieces of art very openly
in museums, not behind glass, so people can enjoy them. The fact that
he is an artist makes me ask a more heavy punishment, because he knows
what he's doing." (...)

NOTE: The prosecutor then asked for one year of imprisonment followed
by six months probation, as well as no admittance for two years to the
Stedelijk Museum. If Brenner commits a crime in Holland during those
two years, he would be liable to another six months added to whatever
sentence he would otherwise have gotten.

HOWEVER: there is some dispute about the above facts, quoted to me by
press officer Mertons. Truska Bast, reporter for Het Parools, told me
that the prosecutor asked for 6 months prison, followed by one year of
probation. I'm unable to account for the discrepancy, but invite those
interested to call or write M.A.M. Pijnenburg, tel +31 20 6620401;
Johannes Vermeerstraat 81 hs, 1071 Amsterdam for more exact

Now came Pijnenburg's turn. The defense lawyer pointed out that
there's a real question as to if the painting's damaged or not -- if
you can only see it with a microscope, he said, while the public only
sees it from a distance, then it's not damaged. He also said he had
gotten lots of letters supporting his client.

Pijnenburg: "The prosecutor is saying that art is for everybody, but
that's the same thing Mr. Brenner is saying: it should be for the
public, not part of a commercial situation. (...) In the beginning the
art of Malevich was the art of absolute freedom, against the
establishment. It has now lost its value; it is part of the commercial
elite, it has lost it's artistic value (...) the museums and
gallery owners. It was a unique act, therefore the restoration of the
painting is a loss to art. This is not the deed of a psychopath. The
damage must be seen in its artistic context. The dollar has been
removed now; it's just temporary damage. Everyone can see that now, so
the prosecutor's demand is far out of reach."

Pijnenburg then pointed out that it's Brenner's first offense, and
stated that it was acceptable to the defense that he receive six
months probation

The judges now went into a backroom to debate the request by the
defense lawyer that Alexander Brenner be released until their verdict.
But they came back very quickly and denied that request.

Finally, at the end Brenner got the last word:

Brenner: (...) "My act was a deed to send society a message, it wasn't
a deed against this city. There's a crises in the culture now,
comparable to the biggest catastrophe of the 20th Century, the Second
World War. Art is in that same state. We only hear the voices of the
people making the machines or the mafia. But I'm part of a culture
with a human voice. The space in Russia now belongs to the people who
have the power. But there have always also been people in Russia with
a human voice, people like Andrei Sakharov. My act was part of those
intentions. The human voice has to continue." (...)

NOTE: He then went into a digression -- hard to translate -- about how
the lack of this human voice produced people in an "MTV culture."

Brenner: (...) "Russian culture was always a critical one; I've been
critical of art. That is my main reason to do this. My motives were
very pure, believe me, I did it not as an act of destruction but as a
pure deed."

This represents the end of the trial -- all that was left was for one
of the three judges to state that the verdict would be decided within
14 days.

People interested in communicating with Alexander Brenner can call or
write M.A.M. Pijnenburg, tel +31 20 6620401; Johannes Vermeerstraat 81
hs, 1071 Amsterdam.
*  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
*  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
*  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
*  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
*  URL:  contact: