Street Art's Street Fight

A Marxism-spouting prankster is roiling the street art world

| June 14, 2007

For months, New York City's street artists have found themselves the victims of a creative but harsh critique. Graffiti art across the city has been 'splashed' with paint and defaced by diatribes decrying their bourgeois appeal. As one of these manifestos -- which defy removal with warnings that they have been affixed with glue mixed with glass -- reads: 'Our Struggle cannot be hung on walls. Destroy the museums, in the streets and everywhere.' With these outrageous tactics and quasi-Marxist professions, the Splasher (as he or she has been labeled) has sent art world sleuths hunting for a culprit and brought to the surface a bitter debate about the validity and limits of street art.

As the genre has evolved, street art has grown from petty spray paint tags to elaborate murals to trompe l'oeil paintings. The art and some of its more provocative creators have gained notoriety across the globe and have been welcomed into some of the world's most prestigious museums. It's this acclaim that's apparently motivating the Splasher, whose antics started sometime last fall and seemed to target a select, successful few.

In a New York Magazine investigation, Sam Anderson talks to street artists and the genre's aficionados in hopes of unmasking the Splasher. Following a lead provided by a reclusive artist, he comes close but ultimately falls short of a conclusive answer. While no one knows who the Splasher is, theories of his or her identity abound. They're as far-reaching and as far-fetched as rumors swirling in New York's hipsterville Williamsburg that the clothing company American Apparel or its enemies may be behind a March neighborhood splashing, as the Washington Post reported.

The Splasher saga goes beyond a beguiling identity mystery. Putting aside the validity of the Splasher's objectives, the art blog Eyeteeth has suggested that it's worth analyzing the Splasher's techniques in the context of other art movements such as 'the Dadaists acts of destruction, Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, the Francis Alys work where he punctured a can of paint in a museum and wandered with it throughout the neighborhood, dripping all the way and ended up nailing the empty container to the gallery wall.' Though Eyeteeth writer Paul Schmelzer ultimately condemns the Splasher's agenda as 'hokey,' he notes that street artists might 'relax a little' and 'reconsider the tenuous canvas they're using.'

For those looking to engage the street art debate in a less destructive fashion than the Splasher, consider the option created by artist Drew Heffron, whose 'Graffiti Critique' was appropriated and converted into the 'Graffiti Report Card' by the art blogger Brandon Thomas Baunach. 'I wanted a way to combat the ugly graffiti while at the same time give praise to the talented graffiti writers who I feel make the streets more beautiful,' Baunach writes. And now you can, too: The Graffiti Report Card can be downloaded, printed, and then pasted directly next to pieces of graffiti art to share your analysis of an artist's creativity, skill, and daring. Baunach also encourages users of the Graffiti Report Card to take pictures of the graffiti they've critiqued and post it to his Flickr group website.

Go there >> The Vandalism Vandal

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