Street Art is Dead

Sometime in the autumn of 2006, an anonymous figure began to splash once sacred street art. Revolutionary creativity does not shock or entertain the bourgeoisie, read communiqués posted at the scene, it destroys them.
Street Art is Dead

Sometime in the autumn of 2006, an anonymous figure began a campaign in the pre-dawn streets of New York. Armed with paint cans and propaganda, he set out to cast a blight upon once sacred images. With furious, brightly colored bursts, wall after wall of celebrated street art was systematically obliterated. Revolutionary creativity does not shock or entertain the bourgeoisie, read communiqués posted at the scene, it destroys them. Deriding street artists as “advance scouts for capital,” the Splasher, as he came to be known, was issuing a proclamation.

The first evidence of a rising discontent came in the summer. It began with the artist known as Swoon. In a world filled with violent color and provocative imagery, her work stood apart - restrained and serene. Her ethereal figures quietly populated the city’s bridge embankments and back alleys bringing a haunting, humanistic quality to otherwise drab urban areas. Then someone started crossing out their eyes. In large black letters, the words SOLD TO MoMA were stenciled next to the newly blind.

It’s a cycle that has become all too familiar. Anything subversive, anything meant to disrupt the status quo and challenge traditional models of thought and behavior is eventually adopted into the mainstream it is swimming against. Once caught in the currents of convention, it becomes powerless. Just another commodity to be traded in the system. Swoon had long been regarded as a holdout, not to be counted among artists growing increasingly more inclined to traffic with the consumer culture they were meant to be undermining. But then she sold. Whether an out should be affixed remains a matter of opinion. One thing is clear – the sale of her work signaled to someone that she had lost sight of the mission.

The splashing began last November. And though Swoon was among the first to be hit, she was no longer alone. What was originally conceived as the antipode to a gallery culture that focused too much attention on the individual was now producing megawatt stars of its own. The brighter an artist’s work shone on the street, the more likely it was to draw the ire of the Splasher. This fact gave rise to an obvious and widely propagated theory: the Splasher resented success. Perhaps he was a jealous artist unable to garner the same attention paid to the darlings of the scene. Or maybe a misguided revolutionary clinging naïvely to the idealistic notion that true artists must remain uncorrupted by the forces of capitalism. Either way, his criticisms were dismissed as bullshit.

After all, he did hit a Banksy.

In the soaring pantheon of street art, none sits on high quite like the mythic Briton. When he descended upon Williamsburg, a Brooklyn neighborhood teetering on the precipice of gentrification, the piece he bestowed there was widely heralded as a gift. Stenciled on the face of an otherwise unremarkable building, a small girl skips rope blissfully unaware that the cord she grips in her small hands originates from a nearby electrical box. A young boy raised on painted toes stands poised to flip the switch. The work was a pristine example of the graceful commentary the world has come to expect from the enigmatic artist. When the Splasher defaced it, he committed the ultimate act of blasphemy. In wounded awe, we mouthed a collective why?

From the Splasher’s communiqué: A Dadaist once smashed a clock, dipped the pieces in ink, pressed the ink-soaked pieces against a sheet of paper and had it framed. His purpose was to criticize the modernist idealization of efficiency. Rather than inspiring the widespread smashing of clocks and the re-evaluation of time in society, the piece of paper itself has become a sought-after commodity.

Banksy’s work is largely found on walls. It can be found on the working-class walls of Bristol, the wall erected to further define the separation between Israel and the occupied territories and on walls in the Los Angeles home of actor Brad Pitt. Last year, the sale of his work broke records at Sotheby’s.

The underground art scene whipped itself into a frenzy trying to uncover the Splasher’s identity. Having suffered the desecration of Banksy, there was a universal thirst for blood. The blogosphere was set ablaze in rumor and online tribunals formed in which suspects were named, tried and convicted by a jury of their virtual peers. It all became very simple. The Splasher was a villain and the artists were his victims. The artists, it was decided, must be protected.

But it wasn’t them he was after – it was us.

All art is subject to the same evolutionary cycle. It is created, absorbed into collective consciousness and then coveted. It’s not enough that it exists, it must be owned. Street art grew out of a resistance to this fact. It was a fuck you to the fastidious little gallery owner and his 50 percent cut. A rejection of the exploitative nature of the collector. It was democratic rebellion. Art for everyone. But then we started buying it. And now we, as a culture who demand ownership and insist that art be hung on gleaming white walls, are the ones being splashed.

_Sarah Nardi is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

66 comments on the article “Street Art is Dead”

Displaying 41 - 50 of 66

Page 5 of 7

nothing much

Criticizing those who buy McDonald's hamburgers won't solve anything meaningful in the long term;
but taking out McDonald's would be a good start.
Criticizing sell outs won't solve anything;
but taking out those who inspire us yes, all of us to sell out would be a good start. Hit those that cause the most hurt. Why hit an artist when a corporate billboard is across the street. Why hit a billboard when an office building is next door. Why hit up an office building when the people who make decisions are inside. Then again, I don't even own a bucket of paint. But I guess there are as many ways to hit up these folks as there are creative people who are willing to do the work and have some fun. What's your version?

Frank Fields

You wouldn't need to write this article if you had read Rebel Sell, rather than your idiotic bible, No Logo. All radical culture even Naomi Klein's posing gets hoovered up by the system. Think about Naomi's millions and then ask yourself if she is really challenging the system, or just 'freaking' with our heads?


I'm pretty sure Banksy knows that the primary law of art on the street is that it is Transitory. If you don't like what the splasher is doing, then paint over what he painted over.


Splasher isn't an artist. He/she isn't trying to make art, he's making a statement. I'm actually inclined to agree with Splasher. By selling out, these street artists are telling people that the art aspect of a piece is far more important than the message could ever be. When you get upset about the loss of a Banksy or Swoon piece, are you getting upset at the message being censored, or an artist's work being destroyed?


Destruction can be art. And art is transitory, especially street art. But if splasher is assuming street artists are by definition anticapitalist, and then trying to show their hypocrisy, I think that might be assuming too much. Perhaps some of these street artists are more interested in art than message. Perhaps there are some who are just inspired kids with no money for canvasses. For them, the prospect of acceptance into the mainstream art world might be a dream come true. Now if he targets known anticommercial artists who do not practice what they preach, then I can see some value in his message. But that message alone begs the question, what mindset devotes itself only to criticism and destruction?

info gverrilla

Heyo, Asking the street artists to take political refusals is absolutely authoritary, in my opinion.
We don't have to point a difference between mainstream and underground. We should look at the relations between the two of them.

Dr Wurzel

Conformism vs Contrarianism....The Saga Continues: Making Stuff is the new Shopping, Idealism is the new Irony.


Must great talent be put on a pedestool and given a price tag. The art on the street is not sacred. The whole point of paint the wall is to make a subversive statement nothing more, feed public consciousness, inspire debate. It has achieved it's aim. And now we are arguing about ownership? The value lies in the ability to stir thought.. not the dollars it attracts. It's not precious or sacred. It's out there. Perhaps a Splashed Banksy will get a higher price tag now. He makes a valid point. Talent is not smothered. A Banksy has power. Why is Splasher's statement less important than Banksy just because Banksy has attracted a 6 figure sum for his work. Elitism.


A tip for the starting hipster street artist:
make your street art piece and than SPLASH IT YOURSELF pointing and what a sellout you have become! Total detournment self promotion.
And I gave it away for free! :P


Add a new comment

Comments are closed.