ON THE LAM

The Menil Picasso vandal plot thickens: Police seek suspect & Crime Stoppers offers reward

06.22.12 | 02:34 pm

Crime Stoppers of Houston is officially on the lookout for suspected art vandal Uriel Landeros, 22, after a tipster identified him as responsible for the defacing a 1929 Picasso painting in the surrealist galleries of the Menil Collection on June 13. A $5,000 reward is being offered by the organization for information leading to charges or arrests.

According to a statement released by Crime Stoppers, Landeros was charged by the Harris Country District Attorney’s Office Friday morning for criminal mischief and felony graffiti — both third degree felonies — after allegedly tagging the multi-million dollar cubist masterwork with a stencil of a bullfighter and the word “conquista.”

“Right now the suspect is not in custody, but we’re working with local law enforcement agencies to locate him,” assistant district attorney John Lewis told CultureMap Friday. “We have other persons of interest as well and we’re following up on all leads.”

The act was caught on a cell phone video as it happened and subsequently posted on YouTube with a note listing the suspect’s name and a dedication to “art beast Pablo Picasso.” When the story was first reported Sunday evening by KPRC Channel 2, news of the incident caught the attention of media outlets around the world. Apparently unfazed, Landeros listed the story on his Facebook timeline.

Crime Stoppers of Houston is officially on the lookout for suspected art vandal, offering $5,000 for information leading to formal charges or arrests.

Lewis noted that, as the video suggests, the District Attorney’s Office believes that only one person was involved in the act of vandalism itself.

On Saturday, June 16, the suspect and several area artists hosted a party at a space in Summer Street Studios where building tenants have reported seeing the suspect on a fairly regular basis. The small studio where he was thought to have been painting, and perhaps occasionally living, was emptied out Wednesday. A known friend of Landeros, the leaseholder of the 300-square-foot studio had failed to pay rent for more than a month, according to one of the building owners.

Also on Wednesday, CultureMap spotted law enforcement officials conducting an investigation of the now-vacant studio and interrogating several suspects just outside the space.

The Houston Chronicle reported that, during a weekly Thursday press conference, chief Charles McClelland of the Houston Police Department mentioned that investigators had “some fruitful leads” as well as “a person of interest.” The case is currently under investigation, silencing HPD officials from revealing any details.

“I dedicate this to all the people out there who have suffered for any injustice of every kind,” read a letter reportedly written by the suspect, “[a]nd to Picasso from artist to artist.

A Monday email from University of Houston officials noted that a UH art student had been linked to the crime. Due to federal privacy laws, however, university employees are unable to verify a name of the scholar-suspect.

“UH is built on a loving relationship with the city’s art institutions,” Rex Koontz, director of the university’s School of Art, told CultureMap Friday morning. “This incident is certainly not in the spirit of that. It’s extremely unfortunate and not something we condone.”

Meanwhile, rumors continue to circulate through the city’s art community, offering tales of artistic aspiration and political activism alongside with complex conspiracy theories involving multiple parties.

CultureMap read a type-written account of a letter reportedly written by the artist-tagger delineating the motivations behind the attack. “I dedicate this to all the people out there who have suffered for any injustice of every kind,” read the statement, “[a]nd to Picasso from artist to artist.”

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