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Texas police search for man who spray-painted over a Picasso

Police in Texas are searching for a vandal who was captured on surveillance video spray-painting on "Woman in a Red Armchair" inside the Houston Art Museum. TODAY's Natalie Morales has more details.

Police in Texas are searching for a man who vandalized an original Picasso painting at a Houston art museum.

The man was seen on a museum surveillance camera spray-painting Pablo Picasso’s 1929 "Woman in a Red Armchair" in a room at the Menil Collection and then running off.

A bystander in the museum also recorded the incident using his smartphone camera.

The video shows the vandal approaching the painting and blasting the canvas with spray paint. He used a stencil to paint an image of a bull and the word "conquista," which means "conquest" in Spanish, over the original portrait.

“I was texting somebody on my phone, and as soon as I saw him walk up towards the Picasso, I pressed the record button on my camera app,” the witness, who didn’t want to be identified, told KPRC in Houston. “He only took one second. He spray-painted it, and then he walked off.”

Museum security officials discovered the vandalized artwork almost immediately and rushed the painting – with spray paint barely dry – to the museum’s on-site conservation lab, reported the Houston Chronicle.

Menil communications director Vance Muse told the Houston Chronicle that restoration efforts for the painting, one of nine Picaso artworks owned by the museum since 1956, have “an excellent prognosis.”

“The most important thing is to get the painting to full health, which is happening,” Vance said. “All the spray paint has been removed. It is in the right hospital. The painting now needs to rest.”

The museum said it hopes to have the painting back on display later this week.

"How sad that someone would enter and do something like that to a work of art that should be enjoyed by everybody," Muse told KPRC.

The bystander, whose video was uploaded to YouTube last Wednesday, said the vandal identified himself as an up-and-coming Mexican-American artist and said he spray-painted the artwork because he wanted to “honor” Picasso’s work.

Houston Police confirm the case is under investigation as “criminal mischief,” a crime that carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail. No arrests have been made.

This isn't the first incident of vandalism involving a Picasso painting. In February 1974, artist Tony Shafrazi spray-painted the words "Kill Lies All" over Picosso's "Guernica" at the Museum of Modern Art. Shafrazi, who currently owns an art gallery in New York, said at the time he wanted to involve himself in Picasso's work and bring the painting "up to date."

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