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Wash your dirty money with my art

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Three years ago, on June 18, 2008 Hungarian
artist János Sugár sprayed the stenciled sentence
"Wash your dirty money with my art" - sized 60 x
80 cm - as part of the exhibition at Kunsthalle
Budapest, and at the same time illegally as a
protest onto two private art institutions. One of
those institutions, VAM Design Center, Budapest,
filed a lawsuit against the artist, accusing him
of vandalizing their building, arbitrarily
estimating the damage first at 500,000 HUF
(approx. 2,500 USD), then after having seen it on
display at Kunsthalle Budapest, raised the value
to 1,400,000 HUF (approx. 7,800 USD), then court
experts revised it to 214,000 HUF (approx. 1,200
USD), and a second expert opinion eventually
further reduced it to 34,000 HUF (approx. 190
USD). The lawsuit brought the attention of the
public and the press to the work, and indirectly
resulted in Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art,
Budapest purchasing a paper version of the
stencil graffiti for their permanent collection.
The case was heard in court on April 22, 2011.
During the hearing János Sugár admitted, as he
had done earlier, having sprayed the sentence,
but pleaded not guilty of vandalism, because he
considered the act a work of public art, being
socially useful, generating discussion, and
ultimately stopping the controversial art
management activity of VAM Design Center. The
judge did not take into consideration the public
art aspect of the act, but instead labeled it as
graffiti vandalism. The court did not allow the
appearance of two expert witnesses of the
defense: Prof. László Beke, art historian,
director of the Art History Research Institute of
the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; and Mr.
Barnabás Bencsik, art historian, director of
Ludwig Museum Budapest.
The court sentenced János Sugár to 5 months in
jail, with two years probation, along with a fine
covering the cost of renovation, 34,000 HUF
(approx. 190 USD) plus legal costs. The judge
considered it an aggravating factor that the work
is now on display in a museum; she blamed the
artist for making money out of vandalism and also
pointed out that he is an art professor who is
setting a bad example to his students. Since
January 1, 2011, parliament passed a new law
against graffiti in Hungary: regardless of the
damage caused, those who are caught doing
graffiti/street art can also be sentenced to a
maximum of one year in jail.
János Sugár is appealing against the sentence.